CHARLES CITY, Va. (WWBT) - Charles City County is a great place to raise a family, but like many rural communities all across America, it has some unique challenges.
Kristina Williams-Pew, Supervisor of Special Education at the CCPS said, “There are zero grocery stores in Charles city county, zero.”
It’s what you call a food desert, with the nearest grocery store, roughly 30 minutes away. “If our students don’t have clean clothes, if they don’t have the food that they need, they cannot concentrate on their education,” said Stephanie Leek, a social worker.
Schools have become this food desert’s fertile ground, and Stephanie Leek is watering the seeds of opportunity with the help of two of her colleagues.
Kristina Williams-Pew shows us what’s called the “Community DEN.”
“So along this wall, we have children’s clothes, they’re all sorted by size and male and female. We have toiletry items, whether that be hygiene and toiletry, or just regular household items. Cleaning supplies, toilet paper, paper towels are some of our hot commodity items that families often come and seek,” Williams-Pew said.
Throw Jennifer Richardson in the mix, and you have the core trio shepherding this incredible mission: a 100% donation and volunteer-based program to provide families with the clothes, food and other items they need.
The DEN is in the school board offices, where they store most of the clothes.
The “Tiger Pack Room,” over at the elementary school, is where most of the food is given out.
This program started in 2016 as a weekend backpack program, but during the pandemic, it evolved.
Kids who relied on two meals a day while at school, were now at home, stretching families and their food budgets, thin.
These women faced the challenge head-on by creating a weekly food distribution program where families got a box of food to hold them over.
“By opening it to the community, we are reaching the families of those students. It may not be just the parent, it may be the grandparent, the aunt or the uncle, but were reaching everybody and by helping them, they can provide for the children,” Leek said.
They even allow families to use a designated computer to print coupons, search for jobs or even pay their taxes online.
All of it caught the attention of Cristine Evans, a para-professional in the school district. She gave the group $300 dollars in cash and a $50 dollar gift card to Mexico Restaurant.
Stephanie said it came at the right time, “I was just telling everybody when we walked into the building today that I had emptied the DEN fund, and I didn’t know what we were going to do next time... Now I know!”