While Fairfax County is considered one of the nation’s wealthiest counties based on median household income, not everyone in the county knows where their next meal will come from. The Fairfax County Government website describes the county’s food security situation; “Food security includes not only access to food, but the nutritional quality of that food as the foundation to overall health and wellness. Prior to the pandemic, while Fairfax County has traditionally had a low food-insecurity rate compared to other counties in the nation, it had the highest number of food insecure in Virginia with approximately 58,000 residents food insecure with over 23,000 children suffering from food insecurity. Since the pandemic, it is estimated that the number of residents who are food insecure has doubled.”
Those who face food insecurity may eat fewer meals, cut out important food groups like meat or vegetables, or may only be able to afford processed foods. This can lead to long-term health issues like Type 2 Diabetes, high blood pressure, heart disease, and obesity. Children who do not get enough to eat or are food insecure tend to have social and behavioral issues, difficulty concentrating in school, and delayed physical development.
Fairfax County provides no-cost meal kits for children 18 and under at FCPS sites weekly to supply them with enough food and snacks for a week. While adults can pick up food kits from neighborhood centers, community centers, and non-profit providers in the area.
FCPS also works to provide qualifying students free-and-reduced lunch at school. Last year, FCPS reported 34 percent of students qualified, with families who earn less than 130 percent of the poverty level are eligible for free meals while those with incomes between 130 and 185 percent of the poverty level are eligible for reduced price meals.
As the pandemic continues, FCPS has stepped up its efforts to provide all students with free meals due to the continuing food insecurity which the county faces. “FCPS is offering healthy no-cost meals at all locations this school year as part of VDOE’s Seamless Summer Option implemented under the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act of 2010,” according to the FCPS website. “Enrolled students will be offered a nutritious meal for breakfast and lunch each day at no charge to the household. Households will not be required to submit a meal application form to receive meals at no charge; however other benefits may be connected to eligibility.”
But the Fairfax County government and the FCPS system are not the only ones stepping up to answer the demand for help securing food during these tough times. The Capital Area Food Bank is one of several local food pantries that serves the greater Washington, D.C. area as they source and distribute more than 45 million meals every year to support the community.
In their 2021 Hunger Report, the non-profit describes what can lead families to becoming food insecure. “Any discussion of food insecurity must come with the acknowledgement that this issue does not exist in a vacuum. It has many contributing factors and is most often an indicator of other individual and societal barriers,” their website says. “At the root of most food insecurity is financial instability, along with its numerous related challenges- namely, the forced trade-offs between nutritious food and other necessities. Other common and interconnected issues include unemployment, low availability of affordable housing, disability status, social isolation, and transportation hurdles that make it difficult to travel to work or a distant grocery store.”
One local business, SAIC, headquartered in Reston, has created a bond with local food bank organizations like The Capital Area Food Bank and Feeding America for their employees to give back and fight food insecurity.
“SAIC led its employees in volunteering with Capital Area Food Bank and Food and Friends, with the total number of meals delivered increasing from 30 million in 2019 to 75 million in 2020. While SAIC has partnered with Feeding America for years, recent events have increased the need for aid from these types of nonprofits,” said Business Development Director, Jeff Raver. “The ongoing pandemic has led to a significant increase in food insecurity, with 45 million Americans now also dealing with the continued impact of COVID-19. Throughout the past year, SAIC’s employees have donated time and money to fundraising campaigns and directly volunteered where we live and work, as we recognize our responsibility to be a force for change within the local community, and the global economy more broadly.”
The SAIC team has learned a lot from their volunteering and shows that any group or person can step up and help the community fight food insecurity, especially during a pandemic. “It is shocking to see how many people are affected by food insecurity. Knowing that we can help and support so many members of the community through donations of time and money is incredibly rewarding,” Raver said. “Seeing the sense of pride and feeling the camaraderie while helping at the food banks and preparing meals is incredible. Many of our volunteers return to events multiple times and some have even gone on to work with organizations above and beyond the engagement with SAIC. Knowing that we are making a difference is exciting and motivating.”
The team at SAIC does volunteer activities like going in warehouses to help package groceries for pick-up and delivery to people in need or packaging prepared meals for critically ill members of the community that cannot cook for themselves, and even volunteer to package nutritionally appropriate groceries for individuals who are able to cook, but cannot grocery shop due to illness.
For any other businesses or people looking to fight food insecurity in the county, there are plenty of ways to get involved including volunteering at local food pantries, hosting and donating to local food drives, and contributing monetary donations to food pantries and drives.
For ways to get involved with Capital Area Food Bank visit https://volunteer.capitalareafoodbank.org/
For ways to get involved with Food and Friends visit https://foodandfriends.org/volunteer/