WEST SPRINGFIELD, VA — Food for Neighbors had a record-breaking 12,300-pound food collection on Sept. 12, kicking off support for 22 Fairfax County and Loudoun County schools in the new academic year.
Food for Neighbors is an effort launched by Karen and Mark Joseph to address teen hunger at schools where weekday breakfast and lunches are students’ most reliable food sources. Because various programs recently started to address this concern at the elementary school level, they were too limited to address the large middle and high school populations.
In 2016, Food for Neighbors began filling this gap through its Red Bag Program. Residents can set out nonperishable items on their doorsteps for collection about five times a year, and volunteers will collect the food and bring it to its five central location. From there, the food is sorted and provided to around 1,200 students from 22 participating middle and high schools. Over 1,200 households are contributing red bags filled with nonperishable foods, and over 650 drivers and volunteers participate in collection and sorting events.
This year’s effort looked different because outside organizations cannot always use the traditional public school sites for collections during the pandemic. In areas where school sites could not be accessed, Food for Neighbors established partnerships with local churches to serve as central collection and sorting sites. These churches include Westwood Baptist Church in West Springfield, Trinity Presbyterian Church in Herndon, and Riverside Presbyterian Church in Sterling.
“I’m so thankful for the partnership of these churches, whose help has been key to fulfilling our mission since this past March,” said Food For Neighbors founder Karen Joseph. “When asked, they did not hesitate to help. They serve as sites for our Red Bag Program food collection and sorting events as well as facilities for storing food and packing food. Their volunteers even help with distributing the food to students in need.”
Westwood Baptist provides weekend food to Irving Middle School, Key and Twain middle schools as well as West Springfield, John Lewis, and Thomas Edison high schools. A previously established food collection and sorting site at Jackson Middle School serves Jackson and Falls Church High School, while a Whitman Middle School site serves Whitman and Sandburg middle schools plus Bryant High School, Quander Road School, and West Potomac and Mount Vernon high schools.
Since April, Westwood Baptist volunteers have distributed nearly 10,000 packs of weekend food to local middle and high school students. Kathy Freeman and her husband, Marty Freeman, mobilized around 50 volunteers at the church to pack bags of weekend food for students in need. By the end of July, they had packed 10,000 bags, most of which have already been distributed to students in need.
The Freemans and other volunteers from Westwood Baptist Church were eager to work with Food For Neighbors.
“Part of our church’s mission statement is to be the hands and feet of Christ in the community,” said Kathy Freeman. “We just felt led to do this, as it’s an outreach opportunity literally next door to our church. We knew this was going to be a great benefit to the community.”
Food for Neighbors has collected over 124,600 pounds of food since November 2016. In between Red Bag events, Food for Neighbors also purchases additional food when supplies are low and provides grocery store gift cards for students experiencing the most concerning food insecurity.
The charity welcomes donations of food, financial contributions and volunteer services to continue its mission of ending child hunger through awareness and community involvement. For more information, visit www.foodforneighbors.org.
Patch has partnered with Feeding America to help raise awareness on behalf of the millions of Americans facing hunger. Feeding America, which supports 200 food banks across the country, estimates that in 2020, more than 54 million Americans will not have enough nutritious food to eat due to the effects of the coronavirus pandemic. This is a Patch social good project; Feeding America receives 100 percent of donations. Find out how you can donate in your community or find a food pantry near you.