At OSU we came across a significant barrier to services for our clients a few years back when we were told we were in violation of a policy in the kitchen where we held our distributions: no children under the age of 16 allowed.
This posed a serious issue for us because we serve such a large number of families, many of whom were single-parent/guardian households who needed to bring their kids with them because they could not afford child care for the time they were getting their food. We also worked hard to make our space and our practice family-friendly with kids’ snacks, toys, and videos that were good for all ages. We panicked a bit when we first heard the news – this would mean that many of those we served could not make it to get the food they so desperately needed to support their families while they sought their degree.
Fortunately for us we work on a campus where the climate is supportive of our service, and we were able to get a meeting with the folks who manage the kitchen space. We went in seeking to understand…why is this an issue? What can we do to meet the needs of all parties? We quickly learned that the policy was in place because of things like hot surfaces and sharp objects in the area. This WAS a kitchen after all. There were times even when there were people using the kitchen to support cultural events on campus while we were doing distributions. This was not ideal for anyone, but with space as much at a premium as it was, we had no choice but to share. We were able to voice our concerns about holding fast on the U-16 rule.
What we came to was an acceptable compromise in which children under the age of 16 were to be with their parent/guardian at all times, and if they were under 6 their parent/guardian would be holding their hand. We rewrote the policy and signed on the dotted line. After this we turned around and developed some internal policies and practices that help us to manage this rule, as well as create a space with an even greater sense of welcome to students with children:
- We offer treats at the sign-in that volunteers give directly to the children (with parent/guardian permission of course). In doing this we get a moment where we can directly ask the child to stay close to their parent/guardian while they are there.
- We learn children’s names. We found that this makes the family more open to complying with the rules.
- We know where to bend the rules…in the waiting area we let the kids run free (or as free as they are allowed to be). When volunteers bring the family to the back and into the kitchen they remind everyone that they need to stick close.
- We try to engage the children in the pantry process. Kids who are engaged in picking foods, talking with the volunteer have fun AND are less likely to stray away from the group.
- Volunteers are always available to sit with kids while parent/guardian goes through the distribution. We have a break room space where the kids can hang with coloring books and toys. This space is visible to the parent, and we do not assume responsibility for the children…we just kick it with them within eye and earshot of family.
Having a family-friendly space is important, and if you take a few precautions and positive actions it is doable.
What do you do to ensure that families can access your services? Email us at firstname.lastname@example.org
Originally published by Clare Cady May 12, 2015