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Wednesday, April 25, 2018

Empty Bowls event at Stuart highlights efforts to address food insecurity

ESOL students participated in the Empty Bowls event with teacher Becky Corallo (second from right).
The community served by Stuart High School has the highest proportion of low-income students in Fairfax County, yet also has many affluent households and a very active volunteer community.

The Empty Bowls event at the school April 24 was aimed at highlighting the extent of food insecurity in the community and showing how people can help ensure no one goes hungry.

The event was organized by Stuart ESOL teacher Becky Corallo and the Bailey’s Crossroads Rotary Club.

Student Carlos Cruz speaks at the Empty Bowls event.
Those who attended enjoyed a simple but delicious dinner of soup – about a dozen different kinds were contributed by volunteers – and a variety of breads and cookies.

Stuart ceramics teacher Amy Nast and her students made 50 bowls participants could purchase, with the proceeds to be donated to a food pantry.

ESOL students, several of whom had only been in the United States for a few months, gave brief presentations.

Edwin Marroquin told the audience that 66 percent of the students at Stuart receive free or reduced-price school meals, compared to 11 percent at Robinson Secondary School, which is only 12 miles away.

Ceramic bowls created by Stuart students.
Stuart is one of only two FCPS high schools that has a Student Led, Student Fed program, said Kevin Mendoza. This program captures unopened, packaged food that might have gone into the trash and redistributes it to students once a week.

This year, the Student Led, Student Fed program collected and gave away 2,023 items of food, said Katherine Guzman.

Students put their unused food in milk crates located around the cafeteria, Corallo explained later. Students in the ESOL leadership class store the food in a refrigerator donated by the PTSA and later put the items in bags donated by Harris Teeter. Students in the ESOL Strategies for Success class hand out the bags to any student who drops by on Friday afternoon.

Stuart also has the Second Chance Breakfast program, added Leonel, which is provided every day at 9:40 a.m. in case students didn’t get a chance to eat before school.

The students also cited several resources in the community, including the Culmore Teen Center, which provides snacks and dinner to students after school; the food pantry at St. Anthony’s Catholic Church, which operates Mondays and Wednesdays, 11 a.m.-2 p.m.; and the food pantry every Saturday, 11-2 p.m., at Columbia Baptist Church.

“This community has food insecurity to a really frightening extent,” said Betsy Pankey, director of the food pantry at Columbia Baptist Church, at 3245 Glen Carlyn Road in Bailey’s Crossroads.

Betsy Pankey (left) announces the raffle winner at the Empty Bowls event, with ESOL teacher Becky Corallo (center) and Kate Walter of the Bailey's Crossroads Rotary Club.
While there are a lot of causes, “it boils down to not enough income,” Pankey said. Some people work two or three jobs and still can’t make enough money to feed their family; others have to stay home to care for an ill family member. There are also grandparents raising children who need a helping hand.

The Columbia Baptist pantry serves about 270 to 280 families a week, she said. People can come in and pick up five bags with items such as fresh produce, canned fruit packed in juice, no-sodium canned vegetables, pasta, rice, and boxes of cereal.

The pantry is run by volunteers. “This is a very generous community,” Pankey said. In 2017, they gave out nearly 57,000 bags of food to 11,371 visitors, which helped a total of 43,666 people. Most of them are from El Salvador or Vietnam, she said, but the pantry has had visitors from dozens of countries.

Stuart parents Laura Castro and Edilberto Guzman, with their son Eddy, a student at Glen Forest Elementary School. They won a bowl made by teacher Amy Nast in the Empty Bowls raffle. 
“We are trust based,” Pankey said, meaning they don’t check people’s tax returns or other documents. “Our philosophy is to provide a warm welcome. We want people to feel like they’re part of a loving family. It’s hard to be poor.”

Some of those who benefit from the pantry work in Columbia Baptist’s community garden, which raises the produce that is given away.

The church also has classes in gardening, nutrition, financial literacy, and hands-on cooking. The classes were started when the volunteers learned people didn’t know how to cook some of they food they received from the pantry, such as butternut squash or brown rice, and needed to learn how to combine foods to make a healthy, frugal meal.

A Lions Club volunteer hands out potatoes at the food pantry at Glen Forest Elementary School.
Pam Martinov, president of the local Lions Club, spoke about the food distribution program at Glen Forest Elementary School in Bailey’s Crossroads coordinated by school social worker Michelle Wentz. Several Lions Club members serve as volunteers.

Families can drop by the cafeteria Wednesdays at 6 p.m. to pick up food donated by a D.C. food bank. About 70 or 80 families usually show up. They don’t need to show documentation, and no questions are asked. Children can pick up free books, too.

All of those programs could use more volunteers, as well as other food giveaway efforts hosted by the Dar Al-Hijrah Islamic Center in Seven Corners and Food for Others in Fairfax.

Sarah Shannon told the audience about another opportunity to volunteer: the Arlington Moose Lodge, at 5710 Scoville Road in Bailey’s Crossroads, has agreed to donate a plot of land to create a community garden, with the goal of raising food for local pantries.

The public is invited to begin clearing the land Saturday, May 12, 9 a.m.-noon. For more information, contact Shannon at


  1. This is where money should be raised! Not for the name on the front of the school.

    1. Yes, the county should pay for the name change. Name should have never been on the school. I bet nobody complained when they spent all the money spent to change the gym when they removed the confederate flag. That money spent changing the logo and other was hidden away in the 80's.

  2. Kathy Nebhut4/26/18, 12:37 PM

    How wonderful life is when we all come together to help one another!
    Well done, everyone!