Food program helps hundreds of kids, families

Posted: March 16, 2013

The Winchester Star

Volunteers Gina Veach and Tyler Stottlemyer fill Weekend Food Bags at Quarles Elementary School. (Photo by Scott Mason/The Winchester Star)
Volunteers Fred Jones Sr. (left) and Ronnie Thompson sort bags for the Weekend Food Program Thursday afternoon at Quarles Elementary School. (Photo by Scott Mason/The Winchester Star)

WINCHESTER — Every Thursday night, volunteers from the New Life Christian Church in Frederick County fill plastic bags with food for children at Quarles Elementary School and their families.

“It’s a great need,” said member Gina Veach. “And it seems to multiply every year. Parents are out of work, children are homeless. We just reach out to the community any way we can.”

Every week, 280 students from low-income families take home one of the bags for the weekend.

“It’s sad,” said church member Kaye Sprague as she slid packages of corn and beans into a bag. “It’s just really sad.”

Quarles and Virginia Avenue Charlotte DeHart Elementary are the two public schools among the six in the city to have a backpack/bag program, in which students take food home for the weekend for them and their families.

The food is donated by the Blue Ridge Area Food Bank in Verona.

“We’re so grateful,” said Quarles Principal Joanie Hovatter.

To be invited into the backpack program, students must be eligible for free or reduced-price lunches. To receive a reduced-price lunch, a family of four must have an income of $42,643 a year or less, and to qualify for a free lunch, a family must earn no more than $26,965.

In Winchester, 56.9 percent of the school division’s 4,100-plus students are eligible for free or reduced-priced lunches, according to data from the Virginia Department of Education (as of last Oct. 31).

Quarles has the highest percentage of children eligible for the program — 82 percent of the 530 students. At Virginia Avenue Charlotte DeHart, 73.19 percent of 470 students are eligible.

In Frederick County, backpack-type programs are conducted in nine of the division’s 18 schools. These serve nearly 150 students and their families.

The schools are: Bass Hoover Elementary (38 students served); Apple Pie Ridge Elementary (12); Indian Hollow Elementary (12); Armel Elementary (12); Middletown Elementary (12); Redbud Run Elementary (10); Stonewall Elementary (30); James Wood Middle (12); and Frederick County Middle (8).

The programs are structured differently at each school, and food is often donated through local churches.

According to the Department of Education, 33 percent of the diviion’s more than 13,000 students are eligible for free or reduced- lunches. Five years ago, that number was 25 percent.

Stonewall and Redbud Run have the highest percentage of students (more than 50 percent each) eligible for the lunches in the county.

Clarke County does not have a backpack program, though Schools Superintendent Mike Murphy said some children are in need.

According to the Department of Education, 19.2 percent of the division’s more than 2,050 students are eligible for the lunches.

“Clarke has talked about this program for the last two years but has yet to find the time or the staffing to put it together,” Murphy said in an e-mail.

— Contact Rebecca Layne