Arlington, VA

Schools may be closed, but Arlington PTAs have stepped up and supported local families in their school communities through the coronavirus pandemic.

At K.W. Barrett Elementary School in the Buckingham neighborhood, the school PTA has gone through two rounds of grocery gift card distribution to families in need.

“To date, we have distributed a total of $19,500 worth of grocery gift cards for Harris Teeter, Safeway and Giant,” Melanie Jones and Will Le, representing the Barrett PTA, said in an email. “In the first round (in early April), we distributed or mailed out $8,350 in $50 grocery gift cards (128 distributed; 39 mailed to families). In the second round (in early May), we distributed or mailed out $11,150 in $50 grocery gift cards (203 distributed; 20 mailed to families).”

The PTA has also distributed 275 school supply kits, paid from PTA funds totaling $1982.

The pair said in the email the PTA has received a total of $25,235 in donations and gift card contributions from families and friends and through the One Pantry at a Time GoFundMe set up by Arlington teachers.

The PTA’s goal is to do another gift card distribution in early to mid-June.

“Based on our past distribution (and with $5,735 and 40 gift cards to work with) we believe that another round of $50 grocery gift card distribution will require an additional $4,000 of donations,” the pair said.

Additional donations can be made to the PTA’s efforts through:

  • PayPal to [email protected] (with the note “gift cards for Barrett families” and sent as friend and family)
  • Venmo to @Melanie-Jones-10
  • Givebutter, though donations here have a fee
  • Gift cards donated to the Barrett PTA in $50 denominations.

The Barrett parents said the plan is to shift towards the distribution of groceries and other items of need rather than gift cards. This would require more volunteers and logistical support, but Jones and Le said it would be less costly and let the PTA utilize their own funding.

Other school PTAs have been organizing similar efforts.

The PTA for Abingdon Elementary School in Fairlington has raised over $14,000 for rent relief to help 34 local families. The goal is an additional $28,000 to help cover the families’ rent.

“We have heard that families are being threatened with eviction, despite the governor’s stay on evictions,” the PTA said on the donation page. “Our goal is to have rent covered for these families through June. We would like to provide rent relief for families as soon as possible.   When you pledge to make a contribution, a volunteer will get in touch with you via email within 24 hours regarding details. Checks will be written directly to property managers or landlords.

Emily Vincent, Vice President for Communications for the County Council of PTAs in Arlington, said these PTAs are continuing their missions to help their communities despite school being closed for the rest of the academic year. Such efforts are on top of Arlington Public Schools’ meal distribution program for families in need.

“Despite Arlington County’s wealth, a significant portion of our families experience economic difficulties,” Vincent noted in an emailed statement to ARLnow. “As of October 2019, 8,083 students (29% of the APS student body) qualified for free or reduced meals (FARM). Of those, 6,376 qualified for free meals, which means that their family is living on less than $36,000 a year.”

Vincent’s full statement is below.

PTAs have a mission to advocate for the education and well-being of our students. During a normal school year, several PTAs run school-based food pantry efforts for their students and families in need, so when schools closed, these existing efforts simply continued to operate outside of the school buildings. As the pandemic crisis has unfolded, community members have gained increasing awareness about economic disparities in Arlington County, and have subsequently sought ways in which they can help. PTAs and school community members have responded to the need by increasing the number of food distribution efforts, often supplementing them with school supplies, clothing drives, books, cleaning supplies, and grocery gift cards. A few school communities have begun rent relief fundraisers as well, which will likely be increasingly needed as more families experience a loss of income.

Many PTAs and school communities have reached out to each other in these times of uncertainty, to offer support, volunteers, and donations. Meaningful partnerships are developing among our schools and with the larger community. Distribution efforts are also occurring in collaboration with faith-based and community organizations and non-profits; with APS and their efforts to serve our families; local restaurants offering free food to families; neighborhood associations; and with County efforts, most notably the Cooperative for a Hunger Free Arlington (CHFA) and AFAC. Additional efforts are taking place in our neighborhoods through the Arlington Community Corps, which is meeting needs on an individual basis as they arise, including diapers, wipes, and formula for babies born during this difficult time.

Despite Arlington County’s wealth, a significant portion of our families experience economic difficulties. As of October 2019, 8,083 students (29% of the APS student body) qualified for free or reduced meals (FARM). Of those, 6,376 qualified for free meals, which means that their family is living on less than $36,000 a year. The 1,707 students who qualified for reduced meals were in families living on less than $46,250 a year. A snapshot of FARM distribution numbers among Arlington Public Schools illustrates that economic disadvantage is more heavily represented in certain parts of the County, leading to high low-income populations at many schools (six elementary schools have over 50%). Due to job losses during the pandemic, these numbers have risen and will continue to rise. Every effort is needed to ensure that all of our families have the food and support they need to weather this crisis.

Photo via APS

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