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November 30, 2020
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Summer camps, meals and groceries for kids

By: Stephanie Derammelaere
June 12, 2020

The City of Cotati will again be offering their summer camp program this year, providing a much needed service to parents who may be returning to work, or need a break from caring and homeschooling their children over the last few months, and giving the children who have been isolated from their peers a chance to play and socialize with others. As anticipated, the camps will continue with some changes and additional protocols to keep everyone, children and staff,  safe while the pandemic continues to touch our community.

“We had waited for the official OK from the county health order, and that came with the most recent update to that order, about two weeks ago,” says Ashley Wilson, Recreation Manager for the City of Cotati. “We’ve been expecting it though, because childcare was available for essential workers and knowing that school ended as of the end of May, everyone was expecting they would open camps too because camp is the typical form of childcare in summer for school age kids.”

As part of the new Covid-19 procedures, groups will be limited to 12 campers, versus the 24 they were able to accommodate in the past. Parents also need to commit to signing their children up for a week at a time, versus doing part-weeks, or drop-in days, as they were able to before. Days are also shortened, from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m., to allow for additional time to clean, and a camp week runs Monday through Thursday, giving the staff time to do a deep cleaning on Friday and allowing the room to sit empty for three days before the next set of children enter. 

“We’re doing what we can because we know kids touch a lot of things,” says Wilson. “If there’s new kids coming in the following week, we need to make sure everything is as clean as it can be and ready for them.”

The weeks of camp start on June 8, and run for nine weeks, ending the week of August 3. The camp, for 5 to 12-year-olds, costs $135 for the week and at the time of this writing every week still has availability. To minimize contact and because city hall is still closed to the public, parents are asked to register their children online, at cotaticity.org. All staff members wear masks throughout the day, and while masks for the children are encouraged, they are not required. 

“We establish ourselves as a cohort, or pod, each week with each group,” says Wilson. “The health order defines that group then as a household. Households can go together into the park without masks, next to each other, and can share equipment, but not with strangers. That’s how camp is treated too. It’s a household at that point. We are allowed to mingle with each other, just not anybody outside the group.”

Lunch is also available to all the campers through Redwood Empire Food Bank’s summer lunch program, which is free to any child up to age 18. Campers receive their lunch at camp, but any community member with children can also pick up a lunch, Monday through Friday, from 12 to 12:30 p.m., at the Cotati Community Center on 216 E. School Street. No I.D. or income eligibility is required, and, during this shelter-in-place period, children do not have to be present for their parents to pick up the food. 

“From what we’ve seen, there will be a bigger need this year,” says Josie Ortiz, Programs Coordinator for Redwood Empire Food Bank. “There’s obviously a need so it’s great to see that there’s still a good outcome as far as people coming by to the distributions to pick up lunch. County-wide we gave out 45,000 meals last summer.”

The summer lunch program started on June 1 and will run through August 7. 

New this year is also the Cotati-Rohnert Park Unified School District offering free lunches, which started shortly after the shelter-in-place order started, on March 23 and will most likely run until the first day of school on August 12. The two distribution sites are at Lawrence E. Jones Middle School at 5154 Snyder Lane, and Technology Middle School at 7165 Burton Avenue, in Rohnert Park. Lunch can be picked up on Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays, from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. and groceries can also be picked up on Wednesdays at the same time. 

“What we realized is that with disasters we’ve had previously, one town or area was affected,” says Suzie King, Services Coordinator for the Cotati-Rohnert Park Unified School District. “But to have the whole nation shut down, it was hard to wrap our head around what all would be needed…We knew the need would be higher than the Santa Rosa City Schools and the food bank could handle, which is why we are doing this during the pandemic.”

Usually school lunch programs, overseen by the USDA, preclude food from being taken off campus. But the USDA allowed 27 different waivers to make food distributions, such as this lunch program, possible for families who are currently struggling. During normal times, 43 percent of local school district children qualify for a free or reduced lunch program. From March 23 through the end of May, the school district distributed 62,630 meals, demonstrating the overwhelming need for the program during this time.

On Mondays and Wednesdays parents receive two days worth of breakfasts and lunches and on Fridays they receive one hot lunch and a cold breakfast for the following day. 

During this pandemic, there is also a new program, called P-EBT, for students who are normally able to get free or reduced price school meals. For those who are not already certified to receive EBT cards for CalFresh food stamps, they can still apply for this P-EBT card. Families can receive up to $365 per child to spend on groceries at most grocery stores, farmer’s markets and online at Amazon and Walmart. Children may continue to receive meals or emergency food from the food bank or through schools, even if they are receiving P-EBT benefits. For more information or to apply for the P-EBT card, visit ca.p-ebt.org.