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'It's community loving community' | Food For Neighbors charity provides Fairfax County students with meals

Karen Joseph started the all-volunteer charity to make sure middle and high school students receive food on a weekly basis.

FAIRFAX COUNTY, Va. — One in five children struggle with hunger in America. In Fairfax County, one in four students are eligible for free or reduced price meals, according to the Virginia Department of Education.

Karen Joseph started the organization Food For Neighbors to change this statistic one student at a time.

Volunteers at Food For Neighbors prepare more than 1,000 food bags every weekend. The meals are then handed out to 20 different middle and high schools across Fairfax and Loudoun counties.

"My goal was to bridge those students in the classrooms -- the kids who have more than enough to eat and the kids who don't have enough to eat," Joseph said.

Joseph started the program four years ago at Herndon Middle School, where more than 50 percent of students qualify for free or reduced lunch. The program originally served about 100 students at Herndon Middle School. Four years later, the program now serves nearly 1,000 students around the region.

"What it has done that is most exciting is that it created a center and a partnership between our families and our schools so that parents know they can rely on us to be there for them," Herndon Middle School Principal Justine Klena said.

Joseph said what is unique about Food For Neighbors is that it is an all-volunteer charity. Volunteers donate, collect and sort the food five times a year to make sure students have food to take with them on the weekend.

"It is community loving community. It is community giving back to community. It is knowing that there are other people who live nearby who may be struggling and you can help. It is that simple," Joseph said.

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At the last collection event, volunteers collected more than 10,000 pounds of food. The next red bag event is coming up on March 7. Here's how you can get involved

People will soon be able to virtually fill a red bag and choose all the items online. Food For Neighbors will launch the "Virtual Red Bag" on their website during the next several weeks.

Credit: Nicole DiAntonio

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