Since the beginning of the pandemic, the Children’s Museum of the East End (CMEE) has overseen several efforts to help families cope with the COVID-19 crisis. Chief among them is a Food Pantry at the Museum that serves an average of 75 families every week. Ninety-four percent of the families participating in this food pantry are Spanish-speaking and have previously participated in the Museum’s outreach programs for underserved children, including its family literacy classes and Head Start preschool.
What’s most gratifying about this particular initiative is that in addition to reducing food insecurity, it promotes a sense of community. Very few of the families access the food pantry every week unless they’re experiencing absolutely desperate circumstances. As one mom explained, “if I come get food when my family doesn’t really need it, it means others from my community might go hungry.” In all, the Museum has provided food on at least one occasion to more than 200 different families and a total of more than 1000 people.
CMEE has used this weekly program as an opportunity to distribute.art materials (donated by Supplies for Success), coloring books for families to learn why they need to participate in the U.S. Census, and information in Spanish and English from Peconic Bay Medical Center explaining how to protect against the coronavirus. Participating families have shared recipes, artwork and thank you notes with the Museum staff and each other, and they’ve volunteered at the pantry.
In addition to the food pantry, CMEE hosts virtual support groups for underserved families. Parents who have children with special needs and Latinx parents meet via Zoom for help from Leah Oppenheimer, CMEE’s Director of Community Outreach about navigating the stay-at-home orders. A trained social worker, Ms. Oppenheimer also makes calls to parents who are facing particularly hard challenges. For example, she connected one mother with the Retreat to assist her with questions about domestic violence. In other areas of Long Island, there would be a variety of nonprofit organizations committed to meeting the needs of underserved families. Unfortunately, most of these resources don’t exist on the East End so the Children’s Museum must help fill the void.
To enrich the curriculum for many students currently participating in a virtual or hybrid school model, CMEE has organized an array of afterschool programming using digital platforms. Museum educators are hosting a family literacy program on Tuesdays, ESL on Wednesdays, science and coding for middle school students on Fridays, plus one-on-one tutoring throughout the week
Since the pandemic is expected to last well into 2021–we remain steadfast in our commitment to the community. Whether providing educational, emotional, or nutritional support, CMEE will continue to serve families facing hardship during this unprecedented time.