FAIRFAX, Va. (WDVM) — “There is a lot of shame, I think, in Fairfax County in general being stereotypically known as a very wealthy county. Really, we have a great amount of socioeconomic diversity here,” said Fairfax High School’s social worker, Ashley Curl.
Some students have organized food drives to benefit their peers who are food insecure, but there wasn’t a permanent, consistent solution…until last week.
Thanks to the help of nonprofits A Place to Eat, Britepaths, Food for Others, and No Child Goes Hungry, Fairfax High School opened a food pantry for students in need. The food pantry will be open every Thursday to provide food, personal and household items through the weekend.
Fairfax High School will soon have three options for students to get what they need. Right now, they’re able to stop by whenever it’s open. Later this year, students will be able to pick up items at the school’s “remote pantries” (in high traffic locations around the building). They’ll even have the chance to select their items on a portal online — volunteers will bag up their orders and place them outside the pantry at the end of the school day.
Curl says the food pantry’s location — down a school hallway dubbed Paw Print Drive — is destigmatizing. “We all have to come to school,” Curl said. “People need to jump through a lot of hoops to get the resources they need. Being able to come in your school environment is a way to eliminate barriers to access to food.”
A Place to Eat’s program director, Katy Malesky, says she paid close attention to the resources her children were provided as they entered elementary school, middle school, and high school. As her kids got older, extra food options dwindled, but the need did not.
“Resources and parent volunteers certainly decrease as kids get older but, certainly, the food insecurity of those students did not change,” Malesky said.
Those elementary students were receiving “food packs,” assembled by Britepaths and Food for Others, to get them through the weekend. Britepaths and Food for Others have partnered for 20 years to work on similar projects.
Malesky approached Britepaths and Food for Others to consider donating some of their time and resources to opening a food pantry at Fairfax High. They looked to Fairfax County’s successful food pantry at Mount Vernon High School for inspiration.
Shelving and storage units were installed thanks to a $1,000 donation from No Child Goes Hungry. Britepaths Programs Director Christina Garris says No Child Goes Hungry will soon be granting high schools the same donation if they choose to open food pantries of their own.
“It’s exciting but it also saddens my heart that we’re in a school putting up a pantry,” said Garris. “I’ve been with Britepaths 13 years and I knew that we’d be working with families; I didn’t realize that we would be working with families in their schools to provide this need.”
All of the schools Britepaths benefits are listed on the organization’s website. Some have the Amazon Wish feature; allowing donations to be sent directly to the school of their choosing.
Britepaths and Food for Others is also putting an emphasis on donating smarter; encouraging healthier food options that will fill a student up through the end of the day.
Food for Others Executive Director Annie Turner is a member of the Fairfax Food Council (along with Garris), which encourages healthier food donations (like cereals with less sugar, regular milk instead of chocolate milk, and fruits preserved in their own juice). “Maybe the children are getting unhealthy food through the weekend and not enough of it so when they were coming to school on Monday they just couldn’t concentrate or were getting in fights with kids,” Turner said.
Healthier food options will sustain a student through the day and will encourage better moods, higher attendance; even better grades.
“Knowing that your community is actually filling this pantry because they care enough; that you access the food that you need and that there’s no strings attached, to me, is a really beautiful thing,” Curl said.