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Tysons business leaders donate meals in backpacks for local students

Tysons Regional Chamber of Commerce members organize food donations for their monthly “Third Thursday” backpack drive on Feb. 17 (courtesy Andrew Clark)

The inspiration for the Tysons Regional Chamber of Commerce’s new monthly backpack drive came to Andrew Clark on the Saturday before Christmas.

“I’m at home and realized — really, an epiphany of how good my life is,” the chamber’s board of directors chairman recalled last Friday (Feb. 18).

Clark has been volunteering for the Merrifield-based nonprofit Food for Others since before COVID-19, but while assisting the food bank with distribution, he saw how much the pandemic exacerbated food insecurity in the area, especially among children, he told FFXnow.

Turning his personal volunteer work into an organizational practice, he decided to take advantage of the chamber’s resources and influence within the Tysons business community to support Food for Others’ Power Pack Program, which provides backpacks with a weekend’s worth of meals to local students.

The idea was received enthusiastically by the chamber’s Community Engagement Committee, which focuses on fostering partnerships between businesses and the rest of the Tysons community, including nonprofits.

Supported by an ongoing GoFundMe, the Third Thursday backpack initiative launched in January, with collections taking place at the chamber’s home at Intelligent Office (1934 Old Gallows Road) in Tysons on the third Thursday of every month — hence the name.

The chamber has collected about 550 food-filled backpacks across its two drives so far, the most recent coming on Feb. 17, according to Clark.

“On Facebook, [we’re] getting reach out from the community: how can we help? And I love that,” he said. “I love the area, the mindset, the give, and from that, the core team is growing. The donations…keep growing.”

While Fairfax County has a low food insecurity rate, it was home to the highest number of food-insecure people in Virginia even prior to the pandemic, according to the Fairfax Food Council, which says that approximately 58,000 residents, including over 23,000 children, lack access to quality, nutritional food.

The nonprofit Feeding America estimates that the rate of food insecurity in the county jumped from 5.8% in 2019 to 7.4% in 2021.

Through its Power Pack Program, Food for Others provides weekend meals to more than 2,500 children at 34 participating elementary schools, two middle schools, and one high school, according to its website.

Each backpack contains two types of food each for breakfast, lunch and dinner, along with two snacks and two drinks.

The food bank is currently delivering about 3,400 backpacks each weekend, according to the Tysons Regional Chamber of Commerce, which seeks to collect 100 packs with each monthly drive.

“We’re so grateful for the help of the Tysons Regional Chamber of Commerce!” Food for Others said in an emailed statement. “The need for weekend food is really high among Fairfax County students right now, and the work of local organizations to build packs makes a tremendous difference in how many we can serve.”

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