While the Bellevue School District has been operating Family Connections Centers for years, the ongoing pandemic has meant an increased need for support for Bellevue students and their families.

“Some families are coming to us for the first time,” says FCC Coordinator Melissa Slater. “Families who never needed food assistance. Even if they had savings, they have moved through it, they didn’t think we would be in this situation for so long. They need resources to make sure they can feed their kids, they share they never thought they would need this kind of help.” The FCCs are helping families navigate where to find assistance – sometimes they need to work with multiple organizations to combine enough support to ensure a family has what they need. Slater says there can be a sense of desperation for some families. “But it is replaced with some relief because they know we are in it with them.”

The Family Engagement Specialists have seen the increased need. “People laugh because my phone doesn’t stop ringing in meetings,” says longtime Family Engagement Specialist Julie McIntyre. Faced with the needs of families before the pandemic, now there are new challenges associated with COVID-19 and the pandemic. They include coordinating rent assistance, food assistance, but also cleaning supplies and needs that arise when a parent or family member needs to quarantine because of exposure or tests positive for COVID-19. “We do what has to be done,” says McIntyre.

The FCCs were able to quickly begin accommodating new needs of families created by the pandemic, like providing food and hygiene items for the first time. Additional staff were added to provide front-line support at the school-based Family Connections Centers. In addition to food, the FCCs now provide hygiene items, like shampoo, toothpaste, bathroom tissue – things that cannot be purchased with vouchers and food stamps but are a staple of everyday life.

“This is a super hard time and there is more need than ever, but we are coming together to make sure kids have their needs met,” says Slater.