Hub of Weedpatch: Vineland S.D. Brings Food and More to Community

Tuesday February 6, 2024

Families in rural Weedpatch are getting their basic needs met thanks to the Vineland School District. The district established a food pantry, open every day, to allow the community to come and pick up food and other necessities free of charge.

According to census data, more than 45 percent of people living in Weedpatch are below the poverty line and many rely on assistance from the school for food and other resources.

District Superintendent Cindy Castro says the need is great, but people don’t often ask for help. 

“It’s a very humble community. When we say they need food, I mean, basically, they need a bag of rice and a bag of beans and they need flour to make tortillas. It’s that simple,” she said.

Castro established a nonprofit to get the funding necessary to build the food pantry, then partnered with the Community Action Partnership of Kern (CAPK) Food Bank and other local businesses to supply the pantry.

The district also partnered with Brighter Bites and Blue Zone Schools, two health initiatives that provide fresh fruits and vegetables to families in need.

And it’s not just food. The pantry provides personal care products like toothbrushes and toothpaste, feminine hygiene products, diapers, baby formula, housewares and more.

Cindy Castro and Anthony Beckman at the Vineland Food Pantry.

Weedpatch is home to a large migrant agriculture community, with the population fluctuating as workers come and go for the season.

Castro says she wanted to specifically open a food pantry, rather than a food distribution center, so that it could be open more frequently to support the community’s needs. 

“I wanted it to be more than once a month,” she said. “I just wanted to be open all the time, just in case our families need something.”

The school district relies on donations from local businesses and community partners to keep the food pantry running. 

“There have been a lot of people that have just been very generous because they know the need is here,” Castro said.

Kern Medical staff pose for a photo during a recent mobile clinic event.

Vineland also partnered with Kern Medical to bring mobile medical units to school grounds and provide free services to the community.

Each week medical aides provide checkups, vaccines, sports physicals for students, hearing and visual checks, and more. Everyone is welcome, even if they don’t have a child enrolled in the school.

“The families out here, it’s hard for them to take breaks when they’re working,” Castro said. 

She says teachers also take advantage of the free services because many of them are unable to travel all the way to Bakersfield for appointments.

Castro hopes to expand the food pantry and other services with funding from the California Community Schools Partnership Program (CCSPP). This includes building a family resource center on campus, which is expected to open later this year. 

Anthony Beckman, director of support services for Vineland says the goal is to be the hub of the community, where everyone can count on the school district for help with whatever they need, including resources, food, internet, classes, transportation and more.

“I just want it to be the bedrock of the district for support. I want them to know that they can come here,” he said. “It’s an established pattern that we’ve helped these families. This is the hub, this is who they call,” he said.

The district reached out to parents to ask them what Vineland could do to better support them. In addition to resources, parents said they want to be able to continue their own education so they can help their children. Beckman says the resource center will provide GED classes, job skills training, citizenship classes and more.

“It’s a shared decision-making initiative,” he said. “These are things that we provide for our parents because we want to be able to make that home-to-school connection.”

Beckman said Vineland embodies what it means to be a community school. 

“When you talk about a community school, you’re talking about the whole child, the whole community, the support system,” he said. “We are doing amazing things here under our leader and that framework is everything that the community school initiative stands for.”

The Vineland School District encompasses 33 square miles in rural/agricultural southeast Kern County and is composed of two schools – Vineland School, which serves students in grades kindergarten through fourth grade and Sunset School, which serves students in grades five through eight.

This is the first in a series of stories focused on Community School initiatives throughout Kern County. Community Schools are those that not only focus on academics, but also on providing students and families with wraparound support services such as social emotional support, healthcare, transportation and much more.

By Katie Avery

By Katie Avery

Katie Avery joined the Kern County Superintendent of Schools in 2023 as a Communications Specialist. As a former journalist and marketing professional, her passions include media and storytelling. Before joining KCSOS, Avery worked for various local TV stations as well as the health care industry.