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One year of TUSD’s Family Resource Center
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The Family Resource Center within the west wing of the Turlock Unified School District office building at 1574 E. Canal Dr. includes a conference room that has played host to multiple family information nights, as well as student and parent workshops (Photo courtesy of TUSD).

One of the primary missions of the Turlock Unified School District is to deliver effective instruction to children in the community. With students coming from various financial situations, it’s not as easy for some to direct their full attention on what's going on inside the classroom.

Disparities amongst students has always been an issue, but it became especially apparent following the COVID-19 pandemic, when students and their families experienced an uptick in lack of basic needs.

That’s when Marie Russell came in. A former principal at Turlock High School and the district’s chief communications coordinator, Russell took on the new job title of director of communications, family engagement and outreach in June of 2022, an expanded role that included assisting in the expansion of the district’s community outreach procedures and practices by establishing partnerships to meet the needs of and connect community resources to students and families.

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The TUSD Family Resource Center Staff of Angela Scott, Marie Russell and Angelica Cardenas Ayala pose after a holiday food box distribution in December (Photo courtesy of TUSD).

Through collaboration with TUSD Coordinator of Equity Initiatives Angelica Cardenas Ayala, a proposal was made to the administration council about the possibility of having a dedicated space for basic needs and other resources. The proposal was endorsed by the district’s LCAP Cohort Committee, which allowed money to be allocated to create a central location where people could go for support. The project also received strong support from superintendent Dana Trevethan and the Board of Trustees.

In less than three months, two former classrooms within the west wing of the district office building at 1574 E. Canal Dr. were completely transformed into conference rooms featuring a small library, lockers and cubbies full of donated clothing, shoes and school supplies and a food pantry. It has been tabbed as the Family Resource Center.

The Family Resource Center is run predominantly by Russell, Ayala and Administrative Secretary Angela Scott. Together, with the help of volunteers from throughout the district and community partnerships, they have hosted a multitude of events, such as the back to school backpack and school supply drive, personal hygiene kit drive, school vaccine clinics through the Stanislaus County Health Services Agency, mobile health clinics through Legacy Health Endowment, and Fresh Food 4 Kids Pantry pickups and bi-monthly food box distributions.

There has also been a number of family information nights on the topics of college and career readiness, foster youth support, online safety, the fentanyl crisis, student mental health, the California Ivy League Project and the Latino Family Literacy Project, as well as multiple workshops for refugees/newcomers and for parents on health education with Golden Valley Health Centers.

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Turlock Unified’s Family Resource Center includes a food pantry, serving students and their families in need of meals and snacks (Photo courtesy of TUSD).

“We knew that we wanted to serve basic needs, right? So we knew we wanted to be able to support families,” Russell explained. “But these pieces have all just been falling into place. Knowing that we wanted to meet basic needs, we had to ask, ‘Well, what are basic needs?’ Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs is food, shelter, clothing, that type of thing… So we came into this with an idea of what we wanted to provide to students and their families. It’s been a bit of an eye-opening experience to see the need that’s out there.”

In the roughly 10 months the Family Resource Center has been open, the biggest needs from district families has been food and housing.

For families within the school district struggling with housing, the Family Resource Center connects them with partners in the community, such as Stanislaus County’s homeless coalition. Otherwise, the district does not have the capability or resources to house those in need. As for food, supplying their pantry and their food box distributions has been local organizations, such as Second Harvest of the Greater Valley, Grocery Outlet Bargain Market, Walmart on Fulkerth and Cost Less. Helping distribute food has been students from the On-Track transitional special education program, teachers and administrators, including board member Daniel Benedict, who is known to volunteer his time at nearly each distribution event on the calendar.

“It’s been surprising to see the food situation,” admitted Scott of the such large need in the region. “Even with Second Harvest, we probably need 300 distributions boxes of food. You know, right now, there’s high inflation. It’s just hard for some people to make ends meet. We're actually fortunate in Turlock that we have the Turlock Gospel Mission, the New Life Christian Center also has a food distribution. We have things for families, but some people just don't always feel comfortable accessing those places. Because we’re a school district, I feel like they sometimes have an easier time connecting through the school.”

Serving as the bridge between students across each of the 12 TUSD K-8 campuses are liaisons. At the time of the approval to move forward with the implementation of the Family Resource Center, the community liaisons were elevated to full-time positions, as recommended by the LCAP.

Overall, Russell hopes that the help offered by the Family Resource Center can remove obstacles for regular student attendance and learning, which is critical for future success.

The Family Resource Center is only available to Turlock Unified School District students and their families. For resources or to partner with the Family Resource Center, visit