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‘It’s been quite a change’: Grant elementary offers resources, routine during closure

UPDATED: Wed., April 8, 2020

Eric Hawker and his daughters, from left, Evelyn, 5, Olivia, 7, and Kaitlyn, 15, take a sneak peek into the breakfast and lunch bags they picked up at Grant Elementary School on the first day of spring break, Monday, in Spokane. (Dan Pelle / The Spokesman-Review)
Eric Hawker and his daughters, from left, Evelyn, 5, Olivia, 7, and Kaitlyn, 15, take a sneak peek into the breakfast and lunch bags they picked up at Grant Elementary School on the first day of spring break, Monday, in Spokane. (Dan Pelle / The Spokesman-Review)

Considering the circumstances, the staff members at Grant Elementary School did a wonderful job Monday morning.

They offered books, games, hygiene products and wholesome food, all stuffed in bags and stacked at the front entrance.

But judging by the looks on some kids’ faces, a hug would have been even better.

No chance of that in the era of social distancing and COVID-19 – the culprit that has turned this into a spring break like no other.

Some are coping better than others. One small boy dashed up on a scooter, loaded up a bag full of food and sped off toward Grant Park with a smile on his face.

A few minutes later, Eric Hawker and his three daughters walked by the school entrance, surveyed the scene and took a few bags before heading back home.

“Back home to study, that is,” said Hawker with a nod, as if to say that learning is happening even during spring break.

“Obviously this isn’t the same as having school, but we’ve established a routine,” Hawker said as daughters Olivia, Evelyn and Kaitlyn looked on.

The Hawkers are also exploring new frontiers: Kaitlyn, a freshman at Lewis and Clark High School, just enrolled in driver’s ed.

“Mostly online,” Eric Hawker said. “But, honestly, I have no idea how that’s going to work.”

Other children walked up with their families, accepted the bags but really wanted to catch a glimpse of a teacher or a classmate. The teachers were gone, of course, no doubt recuperating from three weeks of a ruptured educational experience.

“It’s been quite a change,” said Pamela Lindsley, principal assistant at Grant, who oversaw the distribution while Principal Ivan Corley was out of town dealing with a family illness.

Business was steady, with dozens of families picking up bags of food for the body as well as the mind. Along with canned tuna, there were jigsaw puzzles and books and reams of notebook paper to beckon the imagination.

Some was donated by school staffers, but this was a community effort. “Activity bags,” as Lindsley called them, came from Columbia Bank and hundreds of books from the Kiwanis Club of Spokane. Crayons, games and cards were from Saint Paul’s United Methodist Church. Pizza coupons were donated by Domino’s and books by Wishing Tree and other generous neighbors.

“We even had donations of toilet paper, occasionally,” Lindsley said with a smile.

“This makes a big difference,” said Jasmine Adams, who was accompanied by two nieces as she pushed a stroller loaded with bags of food.

“No one expected to have their kids home so long, and with all the people going out panic buying, there’s not much in the stores to cook with,” Adams said.

The donations are especially crucial in the South Perry neighborhood, where 5 out of 6 children receive free and reduced-price meals from Spokane Public Schools.

Sensing the need during the pandemic, Spokane Public School and other local districts took the unprecedented move of offering meal bags during spring break, while Second Harvest and Bite2Go have filled in the gaps.

There are more gaps, hidden ones that Lindsley planned to fill that afternoon.

Pointing toward two apartment complexes to the north, Lindsley said that some families are staying put during the closures.

“They’re not even coming out to get food, so I have some bags in my car,” she said.

Nearby, paraeducator Brazee Smith was handing out bags of food and books. For Smith, this was a chance to do some good and also make a fleeting reconnection with children she hasn’t seen in weeks.

“This is really cool, an opportunity to come here and make a difference,” Smith said.

A few moments later, Donna Hankel came by with her son T.J. and daughter Erin. Both are students at Grant.

“With all that’s going on, the kids miss their teachers a lot,” Hankel said.

In a small voice, Erin talked about how much she missed the chance to be in school and with her fifth-grade teacher, Carol Nolan.

“Mrs. Nolan, she’s the best,” Erin said.

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