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Helping Hungry Kids in Reston

Reston-based group is in third year of providing weekend meals.

Patrick Francisco, a volunteer with Helping Hungry Kids, packs bagged meals for needy children into containers during the group’s weekly meal packing event Thursday, April 5.

Patrick Francisco, a volunteer with Helping Hungry Kids, packs bagged meals for needy children into containers during the group’s weekly meal packing event Thursday, April 5. Photo by Alex McVeigh.

— Three years ago, Sandy Amato and Connie Laurent-Roy began their quest to feed hungry children in the Reston area. They began simply, in Amato’s basement, making about 80 meals a week for some children at Dogwood Elementary School that qualified for free lunches. The meals are for children to eat on weekends, when they cannot get meals at school.

Helping Hungry Kids is now in the midst of its third school year, and they provide meals for about 200 children per week. They currently partner with the Giving Circle of HOPE, which is also connected to the Northern Virginia Community Foundation.

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Sam Kidd, a volunteer with Helping Hungry Kids, adds granola bars to meals provided by the group for students in need.

During April, May and June, Helping Hungry Kids has spent about $2,000 per month on food. Laurent-Roy says she is hoping to connect to corporations and other local businesses who are interested in making financial commitments to the organization.

"The more food and money we collect, the more the need and requests for food goes up, and that’s a need we are always hoping to meet," she said. "We strive to be one of those organizations where you can see the impact of every penny."

DOGWOOD PTA PRESIDENT Susie Livingood serves as liaison for the school, while Tara Winfree coordinates for Forest Edge and Lake Anne Elementary Schools.

"Seventy percent of students at Dogwood qualify for free lunch, and this year almost 250 students put in a request for weekend meals," Laurent-Roy said. "Our goal is to branch out to every Northern Virginia Title One school within five years."

Inventories Coordinator Cathy Schagh keeps track of what needs to be purchased each week, and almost 2,400 items per week are packaged by volunteers each Thursday. Milk, granola bars, popcorn, applesauce, noodles and other food items go in each bag.

"We don’t put in junk, no cookies, no potato chips or candy. But we also want to put in things the kids will eat, like mac and cheese," Laurent-Roy said.

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Members of Helping Hungry Kids and employees of Altum in Reston after packing almost 200 meals for needy children on the weekend, Thursday, April 5.

Lately Altum, located in Reston, has volunteered space and tables for food storage and meal assembly. Last Thursday, April 5, volunteers at Altum packed their weekly bags in just 10 minutes and 49 seconds.

"We’re always grateful for extra hands, and we were able to do it so quickly, because of our volunteers," said Geri Strzelecki, who coordinates the Altum volunteers and storage space.

Members of Helping Hungry Kids say their partnership with Altum has been very beneficial.

"We usually get about seven or eight volunteers, even when we know they’re up to their neck in work," Schagh said. "But they have fun, they treat it like a contest, they always try and overwhelm the people who tie up and store the bags, which gets us done pretty quickly."

On the third Saturday of every month, volunteers are at the Fox Mill Giant, passing out lists of needed items to shoppers, as well as collecting money if people wish to donate.

"I’ve been to Giant with my mom and brother to hand out fliers, a lot of the customers were very nice and donated a lot of food," said Sam Kidd, a volunteer.

MORE INFORMATION on Helping Hungry Kids can be found by calling Laurent-Roy at 703-318-8850. Donations can be sent to Helping Hungry Kids, c/o Connie Laurent-Roy, 1656 Chimney House Road, Reston, VA 20191. Checks should be made out to Giving Circle of Hope/N. Va. Community Foundation, with "HHK" in the memo line.