Tazewell County School System was one of eight Southwest Virginia school districts recognized June 19 for their efforts to end childhood hunger and food insecurity in their areas.

The Tazewell County school district began participating in the Virginia 365 Project three years ago. Through state funding, the project — which ended the last day in June — allowed school districts to provide free nutritional meals to North Tazewell Elementary School students 365 days a year.

The project aims to demonstrate a link between well-nourished children and improved academic performance and behavior issues.

Students at the participating schools each received free breakfast, lunch and a “super snack” each school day. Meals were also sent home for weekends and breaks through backpack programs and extra funds were placed on EBT cards to supplement for extended breaks.

“The Virginia 365 Project has been an unprecedented collaborative effort to transform schools into nutrition hubs, providing children with the wholesome food they need to achieve and thrive in and out of the classroom,” said former Virginia First Lady Dorothy McAuliffe, who headlined a celebration wrapping up the project in Bristol last week.

“I am grateful to our partners who made this project possible and who will continue in their efforts to end childhood hunger and food insecurity in Virginia.”

The project sought out school districts in Southwest Virginia and in Richmond with high numbers of students on free or reduced lunches and or who were in low-income areas.

Tazewell County School Nutrition Manager Tim Jessee said food insecurity continues to be a problem throughout the region.

“In our area, families are living from paycheck to paycheck and, financially, they can see the schools as a means in supporting the students with our meals,” he said.

Jessee believes the program was a success at the elementary school and noted his appreciation to the staff in food services for helping pull the program together.

“A lot of families are proud and don’t talk about their needs, but they’re really supportive of it,” he said. “It’s just been a well-received program in our community and it really helped the families and the children in their need of food.”

Though the program officially came to an end on Sunday, Jessee said the schools plan continue and expand the efforts for the entire school district.

The school system is currently working to provide the “super snacks” through the USDA’s Child and Adult Care Food Program and local organizations will continue to work with the schools on its food backpack program.

Private sector and non-profit groups who contributed to the project include Feeding America Southwest Virginia, Food City, the Virginia Foundation for Healthy Youth and the Virginia Cooperative Extension, among others.

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