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‘Helping Hungry Kids’

Saturday food drives at Herndon and Reston grocery stores provide weekends meals for area students.

Weekend Food Drives Feed Local Students

Every Saturday leading up to Feb. 17, customers walking into the Fox Mill and North Point shopping center Giant grocery stores will be able to provide food for hungry elementary school children in Herndon and Reston.

The Helping Hungry Kids program kicked off its Stuff the Bus food collection program Jan. 18, at area grocery stores, complete with shopping carts and a stack of food ready to be purchased for generous customers. Volunteers at the front of the store handed out flyers to customers and asked them to help by purchasing $11 bags filled with child-sized portions of items like macaroni and cheese, granola bars and sugar-free applesauce.

“A lot of the people who come here just take the bag and prepare it themselves,” said Colleen Cavitz, a Chantilly resident who has been volunteering each month for three years.

Co-founder Sandy Amato first began collecting monthly food donations in 2009 for area elementary school students on free and reduced lunch programs. There is a significant gap in food availability for those students on the weekends that Amato says the Helping Hungry Kids program seeks to fill. Giving Circle of Hope, the nonprofit that organizes the monthly food drives, distributes the food at the end of each week for children on free and reduced lunch programs.

The majority of the food, about 300 bags, goes to Dogwood Elementary School students, with an additional 25 to 50 going to students who attend Buzz Aldrin, Terraset, Clearview, Coates and Belvedere elementary schools. Larger items and boxes of food are donated to the Embry Rucker Community Shelter. “The community is so generous,” said Amato. “We get about eight grocery carts full every time we come out here to Fox Mill.”

The food is then transported to the Altum, Inc. building in Reston, the corporate business partner for the past five years for Giving Circle of Hope, where it is sorted into bags.

From Jan. 18 to Feb. 17, Fairfax County provides transport for the donations through its Stuff the Bus program with Fastran buses in the parking lots of 13 grocery stores that collect each day’s donations. Helping Hungry Kids is one of the initiatives that Fairfax County helps, in addition to replenishing the supplies at area food banks.

Dave Dixon, who works for MV Transportation, has been driving the buses stuffed full of food donations for four years. “After Christmas, there’s a real drain on the supplies available for food banks,” said Dixon.

Dixon displayed the estimated figures collected during the 2012-2013 school year: 8,570 bags, totaled at $51,420 in donations.

Amato noted that the collections have grown each year, and hopes that that trend will only continue to provide for the county’s hungry children: “Nobody thinks there are hungry kids in Fairfax County, but there really are.”