ACPS School Opens Food Pantry to Support Community Needs
George Mason School Social Worker Audrey Robinson arranges cereal boxes at The Mason Market.
A school social worker determined to help families facing food insecurity turned her vision into reality by launching a food pantry at George Mason Elementary School (George Mason). Audrey Robinson came up with the idea for the food pantry, which opened its doors in December 2022. Principal Dr. Seazante Oliver chose The Mason Market as its name. Along with the help of Alicia Alston-Harrison, Justin Wood and Curtis Donohue, the pantry is now part of a Capital Area Food Bank pilot project to offer food resources at area schools to help address needs within the community. The George Mason Community Outreach Committee also supports this monumental project.
Dr. Oliver says the goal is to care and support the whole child and that includes addressing food insecurity. “We think of educational access, social emotional support and access to those resources but we also have basic human needs, we need to make certain food is accessible in the community, as that is important as well” said Dr. Oliver.
“A hungry belly is not conducive to learning,” said Robinson. Alston-Harrison added, “The pantry is an example of the gift of giving, providing food, offering your time and helping others.”
George Mason School Counselor Alicia Alston-Harrison and George Mason School Social Worker Audrey Robinson helped bring The Mason Market to life. Not pictured are Curtis Donohue and Justin Wood, who played major roles in this effort.
The Mason Market, located inside of the elementary school, offers a diverse array of food items including poultry and fresh produce such as apples, sweet potatoes and onions. Its shelves are also stocked with items such as cereal, soup, juice, rice and beans provided by the food bank and donations from the community. Anyone in need can register and access the food pantry.
Dr. Oliver calls The Mason Market a community project. “We are one big family, highly collaborative in a partnership between our school and community and the Capital Area Food Bank,” she said. “This is our stewardship…giving of time, talent and effort and that’s what our team has done,” added Robinson.
The Mason Market is open regularly, twice a week, at the following times: Wednesdays, 3-5 p.m., and Fridays, 9-11 a.m. Partnering with the Mason Parent Teacher Association (PTA), the food pantry is also open on PTA meeting nights, 7-8:30 p.m. School staff can also assist with arranging transportation and delivering food directly to families.
Alexandria City Public Schools (ACPS) Director of School Social Work Faiza Jackson says with the George Mason food pantry up and running, Jefferson-Houston PreK-8 IB School has been identified as a second pilot food pantry program site with the Capital Area Food Bank. If this model is successful, the food bank plans to expand it across the region, building pantries at schools that families can access on an ongoing basis.
Food resources are also currently provided in other ways at ACPS schools. For example, Patrick Henry K-8 School (Patrick Henry) has a pantry box on school grounds that is accessible to the community 24 hours a day. It is the result of efforts of an organization called Be The Good started by the Marchand family, which built and helps stock the pantry on a daily basis. In addition, the organization also supplies Patrick Henry with food bags that include $25 grocery gift cards for use in the purchase of perishable items.
Food resources are also available at other ACPS sites, including:
- Cora Kelly School for Math, Science and Technology serves as an ALIVE! pop-up food distribution point.
- Francis C. Hammond Middle School has a monthly community market with food distribution through Capital Area Food Bank.
- Mount Vernon Community School offers the Blessings in a Backpack program.
- William Ramsay Elementary School has monthly food distributions for families on the second Tuesday of every month (except in June, where it is held on the last Tuesday) with support from the Capital Area Food Bank. Additionally, an ALIVE! pop-up food distribution operates from the school’s recreation center.
- George Mason Elementary School