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Doing more to fight hunger

South Boston News
Students helped set up the Sinai Market Day Food Pantry on Friday — with no-cost produce and groceries available for families in need. / February 26, 2018

It’s 4 p.m. and Sinai Elementary principal Dawn Miller stands back to take in the controlled chaos around her — students and adults frantically unloading and arranging fruit and vegetables onto several cafeteria tables, while other students scramble to help unload boxes of produce and groceries from the Feed More delivery truck.

Friday is Market Day at Sinai Elementary — part of Feed More’s new School Pantry pilot program. From 4:45-6 p.m., Sinai students and their families will come to shop, farmers-market style, for no-cost fresh produce and grocery items.

“The program is designed to address weekend hunger, so we try to provide breakfast, lunch and dinner options that include fresh produce,” said Lauren O’Grady, child hunger core member of Feeding America.

Feed More is part of Feeding America’s network of 200 food banks and 60,000 food pantries across the United States.

At Friday’s market, available fresh produce included apples, clementines, cabbage, potatoes, tomatoes and grapes, and grocery items such as eggs, peanut butter, spaghetti, spaghetti sauce, oatmeal, jelly, Pop-Tarts and Goldfish crackers.

Families shop without limitations, and without the necessity of meeting eligibility requirements.

“The idea is to enhance the school community by creating a family-focused and friendly shopping environment, while meeting important nutritional needs,” said O’Grady. “All students and their families are welcomed to take advantage of the market.”

Sinai students, primarily from the school’s Student Council Association, helped families choose and bag their food choices, and members of the Halifax County High School JROTC were on hand to do the heavy lifting.

Both the January and February school pantries served approximately 60 families, but the goal is to reach 100 families each month.

Funded by Morgan Stanley with a two-year grant, the School Pantry program in Halifax and Mecklenburg counties is part of a pilot program to focus on high-need areas using schools as a distribution point.

Before launching the program, O’Grady spent six months doing an in-depth study of community needs by speaking with county and school leadership. A survey sent to parents in the targeted areas tested interest.

O’Grady collaborated with both the Halifax and Mecklenburg public school divisions to set up the initial pilot schools. South Boston Elementary’s program launched in September, Sinai Elementary launched their program in January, and Chase City Elementary in Mecklenburg County will launch their program this month.

“One of the main program designs,” said O’Grady, “is to address weekend hunger and increase family access to healthy and nutritious foods. Families can choose from breakfast, lunch, and dinner options that include fresh produce.”

Each month, several county agencies support the School Pantry. This month, Alice Banks with Halifax Department of Social Services was on hand to provide information about free education and training programs available through the USDA to SNAP recipients.

Maria Traynham with Virginia Cooperative Extension used fresh produce to demonstrate preparation of meals that can reduce obesity, high blood pressure, cholesterol, and diabetes.

Traynham and her assistant, Sinai fourth grade student Antoine, cooked apple cinnamon crisp for attendees to sample.

Sharon Harris and Camille Younger provided interested attendees with information on the Southern Piedmont Educational Opportunity Center, funded by the U.S. Department of Education. The program offers free services for financial aid, academic counseling, and career counseling and many other important college and career guidance.

In addition to the Morgan Stanley grant, Food Lion supported a holiday food distribution during the December school break at South Boston Elementary.

Virginia counties and cities served by Feed More include: Amelia, Brunswick, Charles City, Charlotte, Chesterfield, Cumberland, Dinwiddie, Essex, Goochland, Greensville, Halifax, Hanover, Henrico, James City, King and Queen, King William, Lancaster, Louisa, Lunenburg, Mecklenburg, Middlesex, New Kent, Northumberland, Nottoway, Powhatan, Prince Edward, Prince George, Richmond, Surry, Sussex, Westmoreland, Colonial Heights (City), Emporia (City), Hopewell (City), Petersburg (City), and Richmond (City).

Feed More is the result of the 2008 union of Meals on Wheels, in operation since 1980, and The Central Virginia Food Bank created by 60 local churches and charities.

Feed More participates in other community-centered children and seniors nutrition programs such as Meals on Wheels and the Backpack Program.

The next two School Pantry programs at Sinai will be March 22 and April 26.

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