Arlington, VA

(Updated at 4:20 p.m.) While Arlington Public Schools works to get meals to students who aren’t in school, a group of teachers have gone the extra mile and are working to get grocery gift cards to families on the free and reduced lunch list.

A GoFundMe campaign for Arlington students in need is approaching $170,000 raised, with an $830,000 goal. The hope is to provide a $100 grocery gift card into the hands of every APS student that qualifies for free or reduced lunch.

“Arlington Public Schools has approximately 8,300 kids who receive free or reduced lunches,” the fundraiser’s founders wrote on GoFundMe. “These food-insecure families may face challenges feeding their families. This problem may be compounded if employers start cutting hours or closing their doors and wage workers end up without work.”

The fundraising push has made headlines nationally, on Good Morning America, CNN and People Magazine, as the teachers try to spread the word about Arlington families in need during the coronavirus outbreak.

The fundraiser is not associated with APS — which is currently distributing grab-and-go breakfasts and lunches — but the teachers said they’re working with others in their schools and with the PTAs.

“They know the kids in need in their schools and are getting the cards to those families,” teacher Aaron Schuetz said, who started the fundraiser with fellow Yorktown High School science teachers Laurie Vena and Deborah Waldron. “Sometimes [delivery is] by mail, or pickup, etc.”

Schuetz biked from school to school to distribute the gift cards, with the help of principals, counselors, PTAs and others. Other teachers have been distributing the cards in different ways and coordinating with the schools to schedule dropoffs.

Priorities start with Title 1 schools — schools that receive federal assistance for their higher concentrations of lower-income students.

“We have a list of schools with the most need statistically,” Schuetz said. “We’ve essentially gotten about 50 gift cards to each of those neediest schools. We are further working with school staff and PTA to coordinate effective deployment. With schools closed, we don’t want to just drop them off at a building. We want them in the parents’ hands ASAP.”

For now, Schuetz said it’s difficult to tell how close the fundraiser’s goals are to what the need of the community will be in the weeks to come.

“I don’t know what to expect,” Schuetz said. “Our goal is large. We’ve raised a lot. But it is a drop in the bucket in relation to this pandemic. The needs of these families may grow substantially, and we’re hoping that Arlington and its residents find many more ways to help our most vulnerable.”

For those that want to do more than just donate to the GoFundMe, Schuetz said they should reach out to their PTAs and help the Arlington Food Assistance Center handle its increased strain.

“Contact the PTA for your school, or the school you live near,” Schuetz said. “Many schools, especially those with the most kids with the most need, are scrambling to help out. Donate to AFAC. They can buy in bulk and have the distribution network in place. If you want to make a million-dollar donation, they’ll have an easier time putting it to use than we will.”

Photo via GoFundMe

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