Teach Your Kids About Hunger During March Nutrition Month in Arlington

Teach Your Kids About Hunger During March Nutrition Month in Arlington

Jamestown Elementary students assemble baking kits at Valentine’s Day for AFAC families.

Jamestown Elementary students assemble baking kits at Valentine’s Day for AFAC families.

Arlington County, the sixth wealthiest county in the nation, has nearly 20,000 people living below the federal poverty level of $25,100 for a family of four. The number of children eligible for free or reduced price lunches ranges from 0.56 percent or 3 students at Tuckahoe, 19 students or 3.07 percent at Jamestown Elementary, to 514 students or 80.56 percent at Carlyn Springs Elementary.
Items on the most requested AFAC list include tuna, low sodium canned vegetables, low sugar cereal, peanut butter and cooking oil.


Arlington Food Assistance Center (AFAC) distributes over 80,000 pounds of food to more than 2,400 needy families each week in Arlington, and at the beginning of the pandemic the number of households jumped 23 percent. Forty percent of the food donated to AFAC is from food drives and grocery store donations with a little over half of this from grocery stores. 

Charlie Meng, Chief Executive Officer of AFAC says, “Food drives are vitally important to the work of AFAC.” But he points out that as grocery stores have better matched supply and demand, donations from stores have been dropping. He says in the next year they will be encouraging more food drives.

March is Nutrition Month and where there is an idea, there is a way, big or small. Food drives take a variety of forms from neighborhood and church groups to libraries and local businesses and school groups.

Children have played a big role in these efforts. Eagle Scout Charlie Gaylord and Boy Scout Troop 106 built a permanent Little Free Pantry in back of the Central Library to collect AFAC donations. 

The Keenan family in 2020 set up tables in their front yard with a goal of collecting 10,000  cans and offered treats for those who stopped by with a contribution. Neighborhoods were dotted with food drives advertised on NextDoor and sponsored by various high school organizations. 

Thomas Jefferson High School for Science and Technology students have organized a mini Canstruction where each team creates a sculpture out of cans and non-perishable items. In October 2021, they donated 3,474 pounds of food to AFAC. Two elementary school students organized a food collection on their street, nearly filling an AFAC box.  

Just this month students at Jamestown Elementary made Valentine’s packages with cooking oil, flour, sugar and other baking needs. Every year Scouts fan out in the national Scouting for Food effort around neighborhoods to collect bags of cans left outside doors in the biggest AFAC volunteer effort of the year.

Your child can organize family, their Sunday School class, friends, soccer team or neighbors around a food drive. Or they can reorient their next birthday party to expand or replace the traditional birthday gift they receive with a can of tuna or soup for someone else.  

Or they can organize a cereal drive in the winter with their friends and build a wall of cereal boxes in their living room. Maybe they would rather make emergency food kits including specified items for a day including breakfast, lunch and dinner and put them in a decorated bag with a handwritten note. One group collected baking supplies in a festive bag around the holidays.

The kids can have an organizational and planning party (with pizza of course) where they make the yard signs, an outline of things to do, create a social media message, design flyers with a list of most needed items including canned tuna, canned soups, canned vegetables and tomatoes, peanut butter in plastic jars and low-sugar cereal. 

They can go grocery shopping with you while scanning labels for no salt added, no sugar added, low sodium, unsweetened for their own contribution to the food drive. They might want to imagine they are feeding their own family and choose things from the accepted list that they would like to eat.

While it is easy to plan a food drive, it does take some organizational skills which can be a bonus as your child learns to set the date for the food drive and register it online, order the food collection box from AFAC, advertise the drive and return the food to AFAC. More details can be found on the AFAC website.

If your child isn’t quite ready to jump into a food drive yet, it’s easy to just pick up a can or box when shopping with mom or dad and drop it in one of the many AFAC boxes scattered around the community outside some grocery stores, churches and businesses who maintain a permanent collection site. They may want to spend part of their allowance each week on a can of soup or container of cooking oil. For a list of these sites check fooddrives@afac.org