After Loudoun County Public Schools’ newest summer meals program pickup site quickly ran out of food Monday, advocacy group Loudoun4All stepped up to meet the new surge in demand and the school district is adjusting its plans accordingly.
The school system increasingly has become a source of food support during the pandemic. This year, the school system’s summer meals program expanded to include a pickup site at Leesburg Elementary School, and to allow families to pick up a week’s worth of meals for their kids rather than eat a meal on-site, after the school district obtained waivers from the Virginia Department of Education. But at the first pickup date of the summer on Monday, the meals ran out in less than an hour at Leesburg Elementary, the westernmost pickup site in the county.
Hearing that, Loudoun4All organized a second meal pickup later that same day.
“This was it for western Loudoun, for Leesburg, for everything,” said board member Amanda Bean. “… We were worried people would be stuck this week with nothing to eat.”
She got the OK from the group to spend $500 of Loudoun4All’s money on a shopping trip, and the group set up outside Leesburg Elementary School on Monday afternoon to give people who missed out on meals in the morning a second chance. The shopping she and her three kids did was also bolstered by food donated by Equality Loudoun. Bean also said the school’s families and principal helped get the word out about the food distribution on short notice.
And at least one family also stepped up with their own pantry—Val Esquivel and his daughter Mikayla, a Leesburg Elementary School student, showed up with a red wagon of canned food to donate to the effort.
Bean said hopefully it will be a one-off event.
“Ideally for it to be equitable, it really needs to happen through the schools, and I think there are organizations that specialize in hunger that are better equipped to deal with it than we are,” she said. “We don’t want to step on their toes or take their place.”
Meanwhile, the school district is working to adapt to the new surge in demand—and the next day on Tuesday, Leesburg Elementary hosted another meal pickup from the school district and staffed by school district administrators. School administrators and nutrition staff scrambled to meet the demand, driving carloads of meals to the line of families waiting outside the school—the meals must be prepared offsite in a production kitchen, such as at a high school.
Chief of Staff Daniel Smith said Monday’s numbers were based on last summer’s demand. Next week, he said, the school system plans to double the number of meals prepared for the Leesburg site to meet the new surge.
And Deputy Superintendent Ashley Ellis said the school division will again seek waivers from the state Department of Education to offer meal pickups at more sites. To qualify to host a meal pickup, she said, a school must show at least 50% of its student body qualifies for free or reduced lunch. The school district had already requested waivers to host meal pickups at more sites, but had been denied by the state, and is now trying again.
Already, according to the school district, Loudoun hosts as many meal pickup sites as Fairfax County despite the difference in population.
Where to Get Summer Meals
This summer, the school district is hosting meal pickups next Tuesday, July 5—due to the July 4 holiday—and then every Monday until Aug. 8, from 9:30 a.m. to 11 a.m. while supplies last. Meal kits, distributed for children ages 18 and younger, include breakfast and lunch for seven days.
Pickup sites are at Park View High School, Leesburg Elementary School, Rolling Ridge Elementary School, Sterling Elementary School and Sugarland Elementary School.