Feed VA Day held at Pocahontas Elementary


By Laura McFarland, Richmond Times Dispatch 

Pocahontas Elementary School offered free breakfast to all of its students on Friday, Sept. 29 as part of the Feed Virginia Day of Action and ended up feeding about half of its enrolled population.

Schools across the state participated in the action day, an initiative of the Commonwealth Council on Bridging the Nutritional Divide that is chaired by Governor Terry McAuliffe’s wife, Dorothy McAuliffe.

Across the commonwealth, partner organizations hosted a total of 87 volunteer events to take action against hunger, and support the council’s work to improve food access and strengthen connections across the food system, according to a release from the governor’s office. Additionally, more than 1,077 schools in 72 divisions serving more than 318,000 students hosted free universal breakfasts to commemorate the Day of Action.

“While Virginia has an abundance of agricultural resources, nutritious, affordable food is still out of reach for far too many families,” said Dorothy McAuliffe. “Our administration has focused on strengthening Virginia’s food system, and I am pleased to have partnered with many incredible organizations in that work. Today’s celebration represents both the impact of hunger in every corner of our commonwealth and a commitment from stakeholders and volunteers across our food system to building lasting solutions for all Virginians.” offered free breakfast to all of its students on Friday, Sept. 29 as part of the Feed Virginia Day of Action and ended up feeding about half of its enrolled population.

Schools across the state participated in the action day, an initiative of the Commonwealth Council on Bridging the Nutritional Divide that is chaired by Governor Terry McAuliffe’s wife, Dorothy McAuliffe.

Across the commonwealth, partner organizations hosted a total of 87 volunteer events to take action against hunger, and support the council’s work to improve food access and strengthen connections across the food system, according to a release from the governor’s office. Additionally, more than 1,077 schools in 72 divisions serving more than 318,000 students hosted free universal breakfasts to commemorate the Day of Action.

At Pocahontas Elementary, 301 students chose to pick up bags with different breakfast items and take them to their classrooms to eat, said Tomas Sulzer, principal. The school has about 601 students currently enrolled.

The statewide Day of Action held multiple goals, the most important of which is to shine a light on making sure every child has access to a nutritious breakfast, he said.

“It’s an attempt to give them a better start to each morning,” Sulzer said. “We know that some kids eat at home and some kids come to school and eat, but we don’t think everybody is eating.”

Sada Hill, director of food services, applied for Pocahontas Elementary to participate in the Day of Action because it is the school in the division with the highest number of students who qualify for free and reduced meals with about 24 percent of its student population.

In addition to the goal of making sure no child goes hungry, Hill said the school district wanted to promote its breakfast program so more families would be aware of it. Overall, she said she was very pleased with how the school’s participation in the Day of Action went.

“I think considering how many students came through, we got them in. Our goal was to finish by 9 and not delay the instructional day, so I think we did pretty well there,” she said.

Increasing participation in the school district’s meal services had already been a focus throughout the district, and one way to help accomplish that was with the new Breakfast on the Go initiative, which sees students picking up easily portable breakfast items and eating them in their classrooms instead of the cafeteria, Sulzer said.

“By starting this program, it sets the kids off on a good start to the day. It gives them their morning nourishment and the energy to get going,” he said. “A lot of teachers have snacks, but this is a way that we can guarantee that everyone has the ability to eat if they choose to eat.”

Administrators had some initial concerns about the food in the classrooms causing cleanliness issues, but “it seems to be going really smoothly so far,” Sulzer said.

However, he did add he promised teachers that syrup would not be served with pancakes anymore.

Improving the number of children eating breakfast and lunch served by the schools has been a continued focus and is yielding some good results, Hill said.

In 2016, from Sept. 12 to 30 (15 school days), the total number of breakfast meals served was 879, Hill said. By comparison, from Sept. 11 to 29, 2017 (15 school days), the total breakfast meals served was 2,233.

“It is not about the sales. It is about making sure the child has an opportunity to get something. Some of them do come to school and don’t have anything,” she said. “I think we are still trying to hit that group of kids we know we aren’t reaching. That is why we decided to go with breakfast in the classroom. It makes it more accessible and makes it family eating style for them amongst their friends.”

Dr. Eric Jones, superintendent, said the school district wants to make it as easy and convenient as possible for children to “get a good breakfast so they come to school ready to learn.”

“We know the mornings are hectic for families and sometimes you have to make choices on whether you can have a good, healthy breakfast or not. We feel that it is important for students to come to school ready to learn and not being hungry, so this is our opportunity to assist the community in making sure students are well fed in the morning and have that energy for the day,” Jones said.

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