Schools, local nonprofits feed Powhatan youth during shutdown

Cafeteria workers and volunteers handed out food to families who need help with meals for their children while schools are closed. Flat Rock Elementary teacher Tia Stout hands Crystal Corcoran meals for her children.

POWHATAN – Powhatan County Public School officials and community members worked hard in the first week of school closures to make sure local children had enough to eat and there are systems in place for the coming weeks.

After the school division announced on March 12 that it would be closing for two weeks to help slow the spread of COVID-19, a variety of groups began making plans to relieve some of the burden on already stressed local families and ensure children were receiving enough food.

From an overnight food drive by Backpacks of Love Inc. to the school district’s efforts to local nonprofit Feeding Powhatan stepping forward to help, many in the community pitched in to show Powhatan children they are a priority.

And now, as all Powhatan private and public schools have announced the closures will be extended until mid-April, the effort to keep the food supply available is an ongoing commitment.

PCPS food services

PCPS held its first food distribution on March 17 at Powhatan High and Middle schools, successfully handing out enough food to last 273 young people with four days of breakfasts and lunches, said Dorothy Kohler, food service director for Sodexo, which contracts with PCPS for food services. Several more bags of food were distributed to families who did not have transportation or could not attend the distribution event.

Kohler said her employees worked 14 hours on March 16 to prepare 2,400 balanced meals for 300 local young people. She planned to increase that number for the second distribution on March 23 to 5,000 meals for 500 students as word spread of the service the schools were offering to children and teens under 18.

The pickups will occur from 8 to 10 a.m. each Monday in the bus loops of the two schools for the duration of the academic school year, even during the week of spring break. Going forward, each food bags will include breakfast and lunch for five days.

Children/students must be present in order for meals to be picked up. Contact the PCPS Food Service Department at foodservice@Powhatan.k12.va.us if you are interested in having free healthy breakfast and lunch meals provided for your child/children. Indicate how many youth will be with you and whether you will pick up from the middle or high school. Those who need help but cannot attend a distribution event may call 804-653-0001.

Kohler said she spoke with several of the parents who received food during the event and heard overwhelmingly positive feedback. One parent said it “was a lifesaver because they hadn’t had a chance to go to the grocery store.”

“I think this really had a huge impact. I already can tell by how many folks have called me, stopped me, talked to me about how this has been such a huge impact for them. Everyone is really nervous about making sure they can provide for their family,” she said.

Kohler stressed that the meals are offered for any youth 18 or younger and not only students who normally receive free and reduced lunches.

“It is also for anybody because we are in a time of emergency and everyone is feeling food issues and wanting to make sure their children are fed,” she said.

Crystal Corcoran of Powhatan stopped by on the first day of distribution to pick up meals for her 5-year-old. Not having to worry about the extra meal preparation helped her focus more on the school work that came home with her daughter and give her more attention.

“It is a little overwhelming with having to improvise on being mom but also being a teacher. Our 4-month-old has a heart condition history, so we try to be very cautious anyway, but this has made us really cautious,” she said.

With four school age children in her household, Jen Butler of Powhatan said having those prepared meals was a big help for her family. She said she was thankful she didn’t have to plan breakfast and lunch for the rest of that first week and appreciated how it saved home resources in case they need them for the future.

“Point blank it makes it easier for us. If you have gone to the grocery store, you have seen the situation there – the lack of multiple items at multiple different grocery stores. This helps out a lot,” she said. “Plus the kiddos were very excited to get to see some of the people they knew on top of still feeling like they go to school. Our little one said one morning for breakfast, ‘this is just like at school.’ That was really cool for them. They thought it was really cool that they got to have school food at home.”

Feeding Powhatan

Feeding large groups of people is already a regular occurrence for Feeding Powhatan, a nonprofit food pantry that operates from 7 to 8 p.m. on the third Wednesday of each month at 2408 New Dorset Circle (next to Community Life Church). 

On Monday, March 16, Powhatan Community Action Agency reached out to Jennifer Davis, outreach coordinator for Community Life Church, and asked if they would be willing to also take on the task of providing meals for youth unable to get to the school distribution events. Davis said she didn’t hesitate in saying yes, and within two days, volunteers had successfully pulled together the first of two bi-weekly food giveaways and set a plan in place for the near future.

“We just want to help alleviate the hunger crisis with these children. So many children in Powhatan depend on free and reduced lunch and breakfast at school. With the kids at home, we know that need is great,” Davis said. “When they offered us the funding for it, we couldn’t help but say yes. We just didn’t want that stress to be on the parents.”

The food pantry will hand out bags of pre-packaged meals from 1 to 5 p.m. on Wednesdays and 1 to 4 p.m. on Fridays during the school closures at the church. Income guidelines apply but she said they are not declining families who need help. However, children must be present to receive the bags. The food pantry has been trying to help by also providing parents with five pre-packaged lunches.

At the first event on March 18, the food pantry gave 180 meals to 70 people, and on March 20, that number increased to 930 meals to 186 people, Davis said.

She plans to keep going with the effort until funding through Powhatan Community Action Agency runs out.

Davis said she is looking for volunteers to deliver bags to families unable to attend the food distribution events.

The food pantry is also asking for donations of pasta, pasta sauce, tuna, mayonnaise, small boxes of cereal, fruit cups, small juices/ juice pouches, or individually packaged snacks.

Visit the Feeding Powhatan Facebook page or call 804-303-6431. Pre-register at https://docs.google.com/ forms/d/e/1FAIpQLSf9VL8VDTKVkjnTvSjnSbjkYUUSmnrm9TSJ4F1DwohdHeH_HQ/viewform.

Backpacks of Love

Backpacks of Love (BPOL) announced on March 17 that it is continuing to provide weekend food to the children during their time off from school.

During the school year, the Powhatan-based nonprofit organization delivers roughly 900 bags containing 5,400 meals per week to children in seven counties, including about 215 bags a week to Powhatan children.

During the school closures, BPOL is serving young people in Powhatan and Cumberland counties and may add others back later, said Brenda Fulcher, executive director. The nonprofit handed out 200 bags in Cumberland on March 19 and planned to hand out bags to Powhatan students on March 23 at the middle school.

Starting on Monday, March 30, the nonprofit will hand out food bags from 8 to 10 a.m. at both the high school and the middle school. This event will be done at the same time the school district is doing its food distribution.

Food bags will be available at the Powhatan BPOL Pantry for those in need of additional help. They will need to call 804-598-2723 to coordinate pick up.

The nonprofit is currently in need of cash donations as well as donations of protein items to distribute. It is asking for donations of the following in individually packaged portions: Beanee Weenies, Vienna Sausages, ravioli, Spaghetti O’s, spaghetti meatballs, lasagna, chili beans, peanut butter (16oz or smaller), and tuna fish.

Donations can be dropped off at The Backpacks of Love Pantry located at 3035 Lower Hill Road, Powhatan.

For more information about Backpacks of Love, visit https://backpacksoflove.org.

Laura McFarland may be reached at Lmcfarland@powhatantoday.com.

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