|Poe students enjoy dinner in the cafeteria.|
Lower-income students at Poe Middle School in Annandale no longer go home hungry, thanks to volunteers from area churches who serve them an early dinner during the Raven’s Nest after-school program.
“It’s a very needy population, and we do what we can to make their lives easier,” says Amanda Sperling, Poe’s after-school coordinator. About 85 percent of the students are eligible for subsidized meals, the school population is extremely diverse, and many students have parents who work long hours.
|Volunteers from AUM Sheila Kyer (left) and Jaie Brown serve dinners to Poe students.|
The free dinners are served to about 450 students on Mondays, Tuesdays, and Thursdays, the days with the biggest after-school crowds, and about 150 on Wednesdays and 50 on Fridays. On Fridays, the students are given a bag of nonperishable food to take home for the weekend and share with their families.
The program started last year with Annandale United Methodist Church. “We’ve had a continuing relationship with Poe on several different levels,” says Rev. Clarence Brown Jr., AUM’s senior pastor. “When we visited with them and asked how we could help with their needs, they said a significant portion of students are on free or reduced-price lunches, so hunger is a big issue for them.”
About 30 AUM church members agreed to provide dinner at Poe every Wednesday. They formed four teams, with each team taking on the project every four weeks. The church members are responsible for planning the meals, buying food, preparing the dishes at home, and serving them to the students in the Poe cafeteria.
“We try to focus on making things that are nutritionally healthy and that kids would eat,” Brown says. Dinners usually include something like lasagna or sloppy joes with a salad or vegetable. “Knowing that the kids get fed every night, that’s a tremendous blessing to us,” he says.
This year, Brown talked to the leaders of other churches and organizations. They agreed to join the effort, so now every day of the week is covered—by volunteers from St. Alban’s Episcopal Church in Annandale, Genesis 12 Christian Fellowship Church, which meets at the little white church on Columbia Pike; the AV Chapter of the PEO (Philanthropic Educational Organization); St. Michael’s Catholic Church in Annandale; and Boat People SOS.
|Poe students in the after-school program.|
Poe’s after-school program includes homework help, followed by fun activities, such as basketball, soccer, board games, art projects, and various clubs for students interested in cooking, dance, current events, or other topics. Dinner is usually served at 4 p.m.
Making sure the students have a good dinner not only contributes to their health, Sperling says, “it helps improve their grades and behavior. They don’t have to worry about their immediate needs, so they can concentrate on their schoolwork.”