School community brings charity to table with Food for Neighbors


Rachel Lee

The activities office was recently revamped to accommodate a new food pantry for students, storing items donated by students and parents hoping to support other families at CHS.

Rachel Lee, Staff Writer

As students take the time to de-stress and reenergize themselves in anticipation for the final stretch of the school year, many flock to outdoor dining facilities to celebrate the upcoming spring season with friends, family and hearty meals.

Absent from the scene are concerns over hunger and food insecurity, issues that impact more than 75,000 Fairfax County residents per Fairfax Food Council. 

Food for Neighbors is a local all-volunteer charity seeking to provide meals for food-insecure middle and high school students. Founded by Karen and Mark Joseph, the organization is based in schools where students depend solely on school-provided breakfasts and lunches as their main food source. Members of the school community are also involved in this initiative, including former principal Dr. Scott Poole, who recently helped foster the organization’s partnership with the school.

“When I was approached about managing this new expansion, I jumped at the chance because this is our community and our neighbors in need,” Centreville and Chantilly area manager Heather Ellison said. “Dr. Poole’s initial message to the community gained us over 40 new food donors in just two days.” 

According to the Brookings Institution, a recent Hamilton Project report revealed that one in five students across the U.S. live in food-insecure households. Food for Neighbors started out serving less than 100 students at Herndon Middle School four years ago. It now supports thousands of students across Fairfax County. 

“Even though we are supporting students in 37 middle schools and high schools, there are more schools out there that could use our programs and resources for their students,” executive director Karen Joseph said. 

Through its Red Bag Program, Food for Neighbors has collected canned foods and non-perishable goods from the porches of Northern Virginia residents hoping to make a difference. Volunteers prepare more than 1,000 food bags every weekend.

“I love that this is a community-based grassroots organization,” CHS social worker Dana Condemi said. “These are families helping families.”

The process is simple: when prospective donors sign up through the website, an empty red bag will be dropped off with a list of pickup dates and a grocery list. The food is then collected and sorted before being divided amongst the schools within the county.

“One of the biggest things students can do is help spread the news with their families and spread the information that this is available at our school,” Ellison said. 

Food for Neighbors will be coming to CHS on March 11 as a part of the weekend grab-bag Program through a collaboration with Feeding Chantilly, a club dedicated to providing food and supplies to local impoverished communities. A variety of donated items will be available for students to pick up, including granola bars, microwavable meals and toiletries. 

“Spread the word that teen hunger is real,” Joseph said. “Even here in some of the wealthiest counties in America.”