Charlottesville-Albemarle Technical Education Center, in partnership with the Emergency Food Network, is giving out packages of food to some of their high school students and families over the holiday break.  

During the pandemic, teachers at the technical education center saw an increasing number of their students’ families were struggling to get enough food. So, last year, they launched a new project: The school gave out 25 bags of food for students to take home to their families. This year, 28 bags will be donated. 

“What I see on a daily basis are our students coming together and supporting one another and our staff,” said Stephanie Carter, director of CATEC. “This is just another piece of what we do.”

CATEC, a regional technical education center, allows high school students and adults to attain training and certifications in 10 different programs. 

Food insecurity is a problem for a number of families in Charlottesville. Over 17%, or one in six families, in the city are considered food insecure, according to the PB&J Fund, an organization set on providing families with culinary and nutritional education. To be considered food insecure, individuals and families have to hit several markers established by the U.S. Department of Agriculture, like worrying that their food will run out before they have money to buy more, actually running out of food, skipping meals to make food stretch, and more.

A number of CATEC students’ families may be food insecure. Such families typically qualify for government food programs, such as Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program or free or reduced lunch.

During the 2019-2020 school year, nearly 55% of Charlottesville City School children qualify for free or reduced lunch, according to the Virginia Department of Education Office of School Nutrition Program. In Albemarle County Public Schools, that number is 30%.

That data is not available for the 2020-2021 school year due to the pandemic.

School breaks tend to be a vulnerable time for families who are food insecure.

“It’s also a hard time financially. There are a lot of financial obligations during the holidays, and we just felt like this was a way that we could help support families,” Carter said. 

CATEC ran an internal survey at its main campus and satellite high schools asking students if they were interested in receiving a food donation. Those who wanted one had until Dec. 10 to request a package of food. 

The Emergency Food Network provided non-perishable foods, such as canned greens, grains, fruit and chicken, for all 28 bags. The organization contributed a $200 Kroger gift card to CATEC to provide additional food items. Each bag contains 30 items per family. 

Students and their families had the option to pick up the bags during school hours, after school or have them delivered to their homes. 

The need to donate food and supplies runs all year long, said Carter. CATEC runs an emergency food pantry for students, funded by its Student Support Fund, to utilize throughout the year. Students can also attain essential non-food items, like gas cards, at the pantry. 

For those receiving the bags, each package donated this month includes Emergency Food Network information for families to receive for donations outside of the holiday season.

The school is in the works of partnering with the Emergency Food Network next year for another drive. 

“I think that it’s been a lovely partnership that we hope to carry forward in the future,” Carter said.

CATEC does accept food and cash donations for its food pantry. Donations can be made on their website or through Carter.

The Emergency Food Network offers emergency same-day boxes of food for families in Charlottesville and Albemarle County twice a week. Those interested in receiving a box can call the food pantry on Mondays and Fridays to place an orderDonations can be made on their website.