Local Food Programs Gearing Up for Start of School

With the start of the 2022-2023 school year right around the corner, nonprofits like the Blue Ridge Area Food Bank, Loudoun Hunger Relief and the Loudoun Education Foundation are gearing up for their backpack program in Loudoun County Public Schools.

Traditionally, backpack programs are a food assistance programs that provide meals for children to take home on the weekends. The Backpack Coalition, created by the Loudoun Education Foundation, serves elementary, middle and high school students. It is designed to help with a school’s existing weekend meal programs. They also create and support programs at schools that don’t have one.

“The Backpack Coalition provides more than 1,000 meals to LCPS students and families though both discreet meal bags placed in backpacks as well as through school pantries,” LEF Executive Director Danielle Nadler said.

The foundation uses donations to buy food from the Blue Ridge Area Food Bank. Eight dollars provides one weekend meal bag per student, $32 provides one month of weekend meal bags per student and $280 provides a school year of weekend meal bags per student, according to the foundation.

Nadler said the discreet bags are sent home each weekend with enough food to feed a family of four. Every LCPS school is covered by a weekend meals program. Some are covered by churches or other organizations, and LEF Backpack Coalition covers the others, according to Nadler.  

For example, Backpack Buddies, at Galilee United Methodist Church in Sterling, is another group that supports local schools, by packing more than 15,000 meal packs every school year.

Blue Ridge Area Food Bank Director of Programs Zach Nissen said each meal bag is about 7-10 pounds of food, light enough for little arms to carry or to be placed in a backpack, but enough food for the weekend.

The program is meant to help those who may need it, and makes it easy to opt in or opt out of the service, Nissen said. He added there are no requirements.

“It’s all self-identified. There are no income requirements, no identification and no barriers to getting the assistance,” Nissen said. Usually, a teacher or a guidance counselor notices a family or a child that they believe may require some extra assistance and puts a bag of food with a form to opt-in into the child’s backpack.

It’s done to give each child or family as much anonymity as possible. 

He said in Loudoun County last year, Blue Ridge Area Food Bank provided more than 3,000 bags a month to families, and 120,000 bags across their service area throughout the school year.

Loudoun Hunger Relief President and CEO Jennifer Montgomery said the backpack program is a convenient way to get food to those in need because it eliminates a barrier to getting food: transportation.

“The backpack program has become a great way for families to access food in a way that is in a trusted environment. Schools are a trusted place for families and a place they know they can access resources and ask for help without judgement. And it’s convenient,” Montgomery said.

Nissen said time will tell if the need will be greater this year as the cost of food rises with inflation, but said they anticipate the same numbers as last year with some wiggle room. 

“Long-term, we’d love to start bringing more fresh produce. Right now, it’s mostly shelf stable food because it’s easier to transport and store. But the big picture would be to provide fresh produce for families. Produce is more expensive and harder to find at a price point. It’s also heavier as well,” Nissen said.

The heavy produce makes it harder for elementary school-aged children to carry the food home in their backpacks.

Although the Backpack program is primarily for students, others who need help can get assistance through organizations like Blue Ridge Area Food Bank and Loudoun Hunger Relief.

Loudounfeeds.org is another great resource. It’s a website that houses all the food resources within Loudoun County, including locations, phone numbers, hours and a map to see which food bank is closet to you. It also has a tab called “what to expect” for anyone who has never gone to a food pantry for help. Montgomery said it’s important for everyone to know that you will get help when you show up at a food pantry, “no one is going to turn you away.” 

Nissen said donations for the Backpack program as well as for the area food banks are always accepted and appreciated. 

Montgomery said there is so much assistance available and within reach. She said all the organizations help each other and work together to make sure those who need food assistance get what they need. 

“Everybody has same goal to get food into the community. There needs to be a lot of different ways for people to access what they need. We have so many programs, ones for the elderly, children and families and unhoused individuals. There are so many barriers to getting help so we work together and support each other to get the resources out to the public,” Montgomery said.

This story was updated 8/23 to reflect the increased cost of meals for students and to say LEF serves more than just elementary aged students.

2 thoughts on “Local Food Programs Gearing Up for Start of School

  • 2022-08-22 at 4:39 pm
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    I understand that these organizations are also soliciting funds to feed children in El Salvador, Guatamala, and Honduras at half the cost. They plan to insert flyers about the program in Loudoun and a map to LCPS so we can get even more inundated with illegals who cannot support themselves when they get here.

    In related news, households who put food in bowls outside were swamped by stray cats, deer and foxes. Said one of the homeowners “who knew that when you give animals all of their physical needs they will come freeload off you from miles and miles away. I don’t think these animals could support themselves on their own and now I may have to cut back feeding my own pets so I can keep pumping food into the strays. The only difference between me and Biden and the Loudoun Democrats is that stray animals will never vote.”

  • 2022-08-22 at 5:43 pm
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    I know everyone means well. But if truth be told, I try to avoid canned foods as much as possible. About the only thing I’ll cook from a can is beans. And I try to do that as rarely as possible. Also, I hope this program doesn’t dispense loads of sugary, chemicalized foods. And please go easy on the meats & dairy products. Whole cereal grains, organic vegetables, beans & tofu are so much better! Welcome Back to School Students!

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