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Albemarle High School students lead area fight against food insecurity

Albemarle High School senior Kat Ravichandran’s passion began in her sophomore year when she first heard a Blue Ridge Area Food Bank member speak to a class about ending food insecurity in the region.

That’s when she learned how dire the situation was locally.

“They came in to tell us that almost one in five people in the Charlottesville and Albemarle area struggle with hunger. And I think anybody who hears that would want to help,” Ravichandran said.

Ravichandran and AHS sophomore Emily Warren are the student coordinators for the School Food Drive, a project of the Blue Ridge Area Food Bank. More than two dozen public and private schools across the region are participating this year, collecting needed food items from March 7 through March 25 in large orange cans in school lobbies.

The food will help provide meals for some 23,000 individuals and families served by 38 food bank partner pantries — soup kitchens, shelters and nonprofit s— and food bank distributions in Central Virginia.

Since the School Food Drive began, schools have collected 73,637 pounds of food, providing 61,119 meals for community members facing hunger. In 2021, 15 participating schools collected 1,000 pounds of food.

Ravichandran’s passion for ending hunger inspired her to start the Students Working Against Hunger Club at AHS, which is now a nonprofit. She said the club has about 80 members, including students from other schools.

Through the club, Ravichandran became more connected with the food bank and became a student coordinator. The food drive is one of the biggest projects the club participates in. Another effort is restaurant food recovery.

“Places like Bodos and Panera Bread produce fresh food daily, which unfortunately means that they have extra food they have to throw out that night. And so what we do is we connect these restaurants with local pantries,” Ravichandran said.

“We pick up the food and bring it to the food pantries. As teenagers, we can’t always provide resources, but one thing we love is driving,” she said.

For Warren, the club is a means to make a mark on her community.

“As children, we are basically told you can make more of an impact when you’re an adult,” said Warren, who became a student coordinator after meeting Ravichandran through her participation in the Students Working Against Hunger Club. “This food drive in particular shows how much we as students can make an impact and help our community.”

Colleen Berger, volunteer and food drive coordinator with the Blue Ridge Area Food Bank, said the School Food Drive provides an important boost at a time when donations are traditionally low.

“The holiday season is when we see most of our giving and that usually drops off after the holidays,” Berger said. “Hunger continues and food insecurity continues after the holidays and bills still have to get paid, so the School Food Drive is really impactful. It’s bringing in donations when we don’t have a lot of donations coming in and it helps us restock after the craziness of the holidays.”

Berger said it’s important for students to be involved in the fight to end food insecurity.

“[The food drive] really shows students from the age of three or four years old in pre-K, all the way through high school, that they don’t have to be in the building at the food bank to make a difference and just because they’re in school, and just because they’re younger, doesn’t mean that they can’t be active members of our community and can contribute,” Berger said.

The club is accepting non-perishable food donations at all participating schools through March 25. A list of participating schools is available at www.brafb.org/event/school-food-drive.

Most needed items include canned soups, stews, and chili, canned veggies, cereal, peanut and almond butter, spaghetti sauce, boxed mac and cheese, pasta, rice, canned tuna and chicken, paper products, baby food, formula, and diapers, soap and feminine products and toothbrushes.

Items that are low sodium, low sugar and whole grain are encouraged and monetary donations can also be made on the website

Source: www.dailyprogress.com

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