As PPS chief engagement officer Jonathan Garcia passed out meals to families last week, he spoke with parents concerned about supporting their families in the midst of widespread closures due to the coronavirus.
“Hearing those stories of real need – one, it’s real ... and two, it breaks your heart when you know that everybody’s livelihood is up in the air,” Garcia said.
Schools are closed until the end of April, and stores and other businesses have been forced to close as "social distancing" mandates take hold across the state. Thousands of Oregon workers have been laid off.
Garcia also heard from Portlanders wanting to help.
In addition to his district role, Garcia heads the Fund for Portland Public Schools, a nonprofit that manages individual school foundations and raises money for the district. Through the Fund for PPS, he started the Coronavirus Relief Fund.
“We started this fund … with the idea of ensuring that we are able to provide relief for families who are struggling in getting access to food for themselves and their families,” Garcia said.
In the week since its “soft launch," Garcia said the fund has raised about $10,000 from individual donations.
“Our ultimate goal, our vision with this effort, is to be able to put $100 gift cards into the hands of every family who has students in our district qualify for free and reduced lunch,” Garcia said.
The district will share information about giving the gift cards in the next few days.
Then there’s what Garcia calls the district’s “behind the scenes” effort.
Garcia and the district’s strategic partnerships team are working to accept funding to serve PPS families in other ways.
That includes $10,000 from ride-hailing company Lyft for round-trip rides to "essential locations." Garcia said the district is also looking for companies who can provide internet access.
“Our students come to our schools with a varying degree of need whether its social-emotional, academic, addressing food insecurity, health,” Garcia said. “This crisis has obviously shown how pervasive some of those challenges are in our communities."