Tuesday, August 8, 2023
Part of an ongoing Series on hunger and housing instability in Fairfax County
On Aug. 4, it appeared hungry students who were depending on two meals a day from Fairfax County Public Schools, would be out of luck until school starts for the new school year Aug. 21.
Questioning the availability of free breakfast and lunch options for children and adolescents from food-insecure households, the school system made an end-date adjustment to its summer meals program at "public school" sites for Camp Fairfax.
"After reviewing our staffing and current operations, we have been able to adjust our summer meals program and will extend our service through Aug. 18 while ensuring compliance with U.S. Department of Agriculture and Virginia Department of Education regulations. Food and Nutritional Services is committed to providing equitable opportunities for our students through open meal sites throughout the county," the school division responded in an email shortly after 9 p.m. on Aug. 4.
Nearly 60,000 children qualify for free and reduced meals in Fairfax County Public Schools.
"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. Now nearly 75,000 residents are food insecure, and just under 60,000 children qualify for free and reduced meals in Fairfax County Public Schools. Since the pandemic, it is estimated that the number of residents who are food insecure has doubled," says the Fairfax Food Council.
FCPS extension of the summer meals program does not ensure a significant number of Fairfax County food-insecure students have a viable opportunity to readily access two healthy meals and an afternoon snack during the last two weeks before school starts. Access to the free food at Camp Fairfax's Summer Food Service Program is only for children enrolled in a fee-based activity program, open from 7:30 a.m. to 6 p.m.
The Fairfax County Department of Neighborhood and Community Services Camp Fairfax program is participating in the Summer Food Service Program as a closed enrollment site. That means at least half the children and teens enrolled in the activity programs are determined to be income-eligible for free or reduced-price school meals.
A sliding fee schedule is available to parents and guardians seeking to register their children for the two remaining Camp Fairfax weeks at public school sites as well as at community centers. The school division is in charge of the program locally, state-run, and with federal funding. The U.S. Department of Agriculture reimburses program operators who serve children and teens with no-cost, healthy meals and snacks. Meals are served at summer sites in low-income communities, where sponsors often offer enrichment activities.
County-wide Food Assistance, the Fairfax Food Council
A patchwork quilt of food resources and programs in Fairfax County is available to support those experiencing food insecurity. They include but are not limited to Coordinated Services Planning (CSP) Neighborhood & Community Services, Capital Area Food Bank Hunger Lifeline, School Food & Nutrition Program, Virginia Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children, and the Free Summer Meals for Kids Program.
Food Assistance sites exist throughout the county: Lorton, Alexandria, Centreville, Falls Church, Burke, Herndon, Springfield, Fairfax, Lorton, and Chantilly.
The U.S. Department of Agriculture will launch a new Summer Food program in the summer of 2024, the Summer Electronic Benefits Transfer for Children Program will officially launch as part of the U.S. Department of Agriculture's collaborative efforts to boost its summer nutrition program. The program will provide grocery benefits to low-income families with school-aged children. Families can use pre-loaded EBT cards to purchase groceries during the summer months. Families will receive $40 per month per eligible child. These benefits operate in conjunction with other FNS nutrition assistance programs, such as summer meal sites, SNAP, and WIC.