Mother and daughter stand in front of a school bus with a grab and go meal

Six questions with No Kid Hungry Virginia, director Sarah Steely

As COVID-19’s Delta variant presents a renewed threat to communities all across the United States, one very real challenge is food insecurity. But all the pandemic has done is stiffen the resolve at No Kid Hungry Virginia to live up to its promise that “No child should go hungry in Virginia.” Suffice it to say that the campaign – the Virginia arm of a national nonprofit – is passionate about solving problems related to hunger and poverty, like making sure kids across the state have access to nourishing meals.

No Kid Hungry Virginia recently distributed $1.6 million in grants to 32 Virginia school divisions and community organizations to expand and strengthen food access programs for children and families, part of a more than $4 million investment since the start of the pandemic.

We caught up with Sarah Steely, director of No Kid Hungry Virginia, to learn more about how the nonprofit is fighting food insecurity.

Sarah Steely, director of No Kid Hungry Virginia

How would you describe the mission and goal of No Kid Hungry to someone who may not have ever heard of it?

No Kid Hungry is a campaign of Share Our Strength, an organization committed to ending hunger and poverty. Our mission is to ensure all kids across the commonwealth have access to good, healthy food –

 three meals a day and 365 days a year. We do this through conscious partnerships with school divisions and community organizations to increase access to and awareness of local child nutrition programs.

How did COVID-19 impact No Kid Hungry Virginia’s Mission? How did school nutrition teams pivot in response to those challenges? 

Our mission has remained the same throughout the pandemic – to ensure all kids have access to food. However, COVID-19 has exacerbated and illuminated longstanding inequities that exist in our communities. As a result, we’re committed to deepening our work as it relates to racial equity and supporting those communities hardest hit by the pandemic through continued investment in communities of color and by supporting existing methods of community nourishment.

During the pandemic, school nutrition teams demonstrated creativity, resilience and above all, a commitment to their goal of caring for students. For some districts, this meant new partnerships with transportation departments or technology departments to make ordering and delivery easier on families. Many nutrition teams found creative ways to use their equipment to pack multiple days’ worth of meals that kids could enjoy throughout the week. Furthermore, school nutrition departments had to consistently adjust to changing school learning models, determining how to use their resources to feed kids in school and kids learning virtually. We hope the past 18 months have demonstrated to local and state level leaders – and to the community at large – the critical role that school meals plays in food access across Virginia.

Do you see any of those pivots sticking around as you move into the future? 

At the county level, we hope to see continued collaboration between school divisions and community organizations like churches, food banks and Boys and Girls Clubs. We are stronger as a commonwealth when we work together, and I was very inspired by the creative partnerships that emerged during the pandemic. There is also an increased community awareness of the important role that school nutrition programs play in any local food access strategy. I hope this support for school meals continues, along with the support for the amazing school nutrition professionals who were serving meals before the pandemic hit and will continue to do long into the future. 

This year, we’ve also seen flexibilities provided by the USDA that enable school nutrition departments to serve meals more easily. This summer, for example, divisions could serve meals in a non-congregate setting (meaning that kids could eat in the comfort of their homes) and distribute meals at more locations, thanks to expanded program eligibility. If made permanent, these flexibilities could have a huge impact on eliminating summer hunger and expanding the summer meals program. 

Which of No Kid Hungry Virginia’s achievements do you feel most proud of? 

Since the beginning of the pandemic, No Kid Hungry Virginia has distributed an unprecedented $4 million in grant funds to school divisions and community organizations. It’s been a privilege to stand alongside those frontline heroes who made sacrifices to ensure families were taken care of during this difficult time. We’ve also been committed to sharing their stories – using every opportunity to showcase their creativity and resilience. Most recently, we’ve launched a Summer Meals Spotlight blog post series highlighting the work of organizations providing meals to kids during the summer. We look forward to continuing to lift up the work of our partners across the state as we know their work will continue to be critical.

We know that No Kid Hungry Virginia announced a $1.6 million investment across schools and nonprofits to address food Insecurity in VA. What does that number mean to you? 

We operate statewide, so when we support organizations with funding, it allows those leaders who know their community best to make decisions and investments that will have lasting impact on kids and families. Whether we’re funding fresh fruit and vegetables for a new grocery distribution program or providing funding for a mobile meals vehicle that expands access into new neighborhoods, we’re proud to support the work of partners all across the state.

How can someone get involved with No Kid Hungry Virginia’s mission? 

One of the best ways to get involved is by learning more about the local partners in your area doing the important work of feeding kids and helping get the word out. How is your local school division helping kids during the summer? What other community organizations are focused on nourishing families? You can also learn more by following us on FacebookTwitter, or Instagram to learn about some of those organizations we support and help us advocate for change that allows more kids to get the food they need.

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