A lifelong educator in public schools, Clint Mitchell recognizes the distant look in children’s eyes when they can’t concentrate. He’s worked in enough food-insecure regions to understand what the look often signifies: hunger.
When Clint was hired by Mount Vernon Woods Elementary School to be its principal three years ago, he noticed the same issue. One 8-year-old named Christian, for example, wasn’t concentrating at all in his classes. His single mom was working and putting herself through school at the time, and a limited budget meant there wasn’t always enough food on the table at home.
Christian wasn’t the only child at the school experiencing hunger. Clint knew he needed to do something, so he came up with an idea: make Mount Vernon Woods a community hub, with food at the heart of it.
“My big thing is really that for us to deal with student academic success, we must first take care of the basic needs of our families,” Clint says. “We want our students to be physically and mentally healthy so that they can excel in the classroom.”
Clint instituted several programs to help kids and their families, including physical and mental health screenings, and applications for SNAP and Medicaid benefits all right at the school. And to help provide nutritious food for the school’s children during times that school breakfast and lunch don’t cover, Clint signed on as a partner in the Capital Area Food Bank’s Family Market Program. For the last three years, the Food Bank and Clint’s coworkers have coordinated a free, monthly market-style grocery distribution at the school, complete with fresh produce and shelf-stable groceries.
With healthy food in their stomachs, students are able to focus on their school work, free from hunger pangs. Knowing the kids have the food they need to succeed during the school year brings a smile to Clint’s face. But there is one more component to his “central hub” idea: dealing with summer hunger.
“We worry about it. A lot. Especially this time of year. Summer is one of our biggest concerns,” Clint says. “Because we know that without free breakfast and lunch, and the family market, many of our kids are more vulnerable to hunger over the summer—a time that we just want them to be able to have fun and play with their family and friends.”
Clint reached out to Fairfax County Food Services and together they began hosting a daily summer barbeque at the school. And more, Clint has helped make his families aware of the Capital Area Food Bank’s summer meal services in Virginia, which are available at a variety of locations in the community that include apartment buildings, public recreation centers, and places of worship.
With help from the Food Bank, Clint has accomplished his goal of making Mount Vernon Woods a year-round hub for the community. But what’s really important, he says, is the kids and their goals.
With year-round food assistance, he’s seen a marked improvement in student academic performance. Christian, the student that helped inspire Clint to enhance the school’s support for families, is now 10 and hitting middle school in stride. Clint has noticed this same improvement in many other students as well. “We will always work to ensure our students are free from hunger,” Clint said. “Keeping students fed is the key to student success in the classroom.” And with food and support year-round, that success can extend well beyond school, paving the path to a bright future.