A Northern Virginia school division surpassed feeding students eight million meals in the first three months of the virtual fall semester by creating a new program that is being adopted around the country.
In the United States, 22 million students rely on free and reduced-price meals in the school year. During the pandemic and virtual classes, school division needed to adapt food programs to feed those hungry kids.
“We see ourselves as the biggest restaurant chain in Prince William,” said Adam Russo, director of the Office of School Food and Nutrition Services at Prince William County Public Schools. “Our team figured out the secret sauce and we’ve been sending it out to people across the country.”
The concept makes sense: Provide grocery kits to students that will last seven days. Executing the plan takes nearly 800 people and a lot of food.
“We’ve tripled our production,” Russo told ABC7 News reporter Victoria Sanchez outside John F. Pattie Elementary in Dumfries, Virginia.
Each week, Nutrition Services goes through 70,000 gallons of milk, 125 tons of food and 70 tons of produce.
“In the fruit bag, we have grapes, we have apples, we have juice,” said Cafeteria Manager Keythise Langham as she showed off the contents of three grocery bags that make up Thursday’s kit.
At the start of the pandemic, Prince William County Public Schools handed out individual breakfast and lunches, five days a week.
“We served over a million meals over those six months. Since then, we changed our style,” said Russo.
Now, parents and guardians can drive up to one of 56 schools, twice a week, to pick up the free grocery kits for students. The children do not need to be present to get the meals and parents don’t need to show identification. The food is paid for with federal funds.
“We get so many cars that come around to say, ‘Thank you, we appreciate you.’ And it makes our job like, we’re doing it for y’all,” said Langham.
Items like whole loaves of bread, packs of deli meat and fresh produce give families options to create what they like to eat.
“So, we wanted to give things that were accessible. My middle son is a very picky eater. If you give him a cheeseburger, he won’t eat it. If you gave him the bread, the cheese and the burger, he would eat a grilled cheese sandwich and his other brother would eat the burger, right? And so, we wanted to make things that were accessible for the entire family to supplement their lifestyle,” explained Russo.
Do you have a Prince William County Schools student? You can pick up food drive-thru style at 56 locations on Mondays and Thursdays from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. Kits come with the equivalent of breakfast, lunch, dinner, and snack for 5 days, plus dinner and snack for 2 days.