By Ashley Hodge, The Gazette-Virginian
FeedMore is on a mission to combat weekend hunger plaguing school-aged children in impoverished areas including those in Halifax County, and on Tuesday evening it expanded its efforts with the launch of a free grocery market at Sinai Elementary.
It is all part of the pilot program School Market provided by FeedMore and funded by a Morgan Stanley grant.
The program first came to this area in September when FeedMore brought the market to South Boston Elementary students.
After witnessing a successful night of providing ham, canned green beans, macaroni and cheese and more to families in need in South Boston, Sinai Elementary Principal Dawn Miller reached out to FeedMore hoping to provide the program to her students.
FeedMore, a Central Virginia core hunger-relief organization, was birthed in 2008 after the former merger of Central Virginia Food Bank and Meals on Wheels.
It now partners with over 300 agencies and comprehensive programs to provide healthy meals and hope for a better tomorrow through programs such as the BackPack Program, Kids Café Program, Summer Food Service Program, Hunger Hotline and now the free groceries markets.
From Northern Neck to Louisa County and south to the North Carolina border, FeedMore’s service area stretches across 29 counties and five cities in Central Virginia. In total, during their most recently completed fiscal year (July 1, 2016-June 30, 2017), they distributed 22.9 million meals.
While the number of meals distributed Tuesday is unknown, O’Grady said it was open to all Sinai Elementary families, with many taking advantage of the opportunity, and no limit was placed on what they could have.
“Our program is designed to address weekend hunger, so we try to provide breakfast, lunch and dinner options including fresh produce. Families are invited to shop through the line, and while there is a recommended suggested quantity, there is no limit on how much the family can shop for,” said O’Grady.
She said they’re simply encouraged to take what they need and what they know their family will eat.
The launch of the market was originally scheduled for Jan. 18, but it was rescheduled due to inclement weather.
In choosing to come to Sinai Elementary, O’Grady said she first completed a community needs assessment for six months followed by interviews and conversations with key stakeholders and local clients who have access to their services.
While completing her research, O’Grady identified a gap in weekend hunger, and she found a high need and high interest with parents who have students at Sinai Elementary.
“We are excited to be able to launch the market at Sinai Elementary and to work with Principal Dawn Miller in the future,” said O’Grady.
Both Sinai Elementary and South Boston Elementary will be continuing the market for families who have children attending their schools.
Future dates for the market are currently set for Feb. 22, March 22 and April 26. A date for May has yet to be set.
The market is open from 4:45 to 6:15 p.m. for Sinai Elementary and South Boston Elementary families at their respective schools on school grounds, rain or shine.
Free items found at the market include fresh produce, chicken, spaghetti, spaghetti sauce, peanut butter, jelly, bread and oatmeal.
Manager of Children Programs Ruth Ann Caplice hopes to see this pilot program continue to expand with additional funding in the future.
“Hopefully we will get some more money next year, and we’re going to try to add a couple of more sites,” she added.
SNAP representatives were on hand along with Family Nutrition Program Assistants Maria Traynham and Juliane Thurston who served broccoli spaghetti to those participating in the FeedMore event Tuesday evening at Sinai Elementary.
See full coverage here.