During this season of celebration and gratitude, No Kid Hungry Virginia is reflecting on the people and organizations who inspire us. This is the first in a multi-part series that highlights the important work of No Kid Hungry Virginia grantees who ensure that kids and families stay healthy and nourished, all year round. 

Prince William County Community Foundation (PWCCF) is committed to building philanthropic resources that will sustain healthy and vital Prince William County communities now and into the future. Last fall, a No Kid Hungry Virginia grant of $34,080 allowed PWCCF to purchase a second mobile meals vehicle – as part of its Combating Hunger on Wheels (C.H.O.W.) Wagon initiative – enabling the Foundation to deliver healthy, nutritious school meals and supplemental grocery items to children and their families during the pandemic.

Photo Courtesy of Prince William County Community Foundation

Continue below to read No Kid Hungry Virginia’s interview with Dr. Vanessa Gattis, President and CEO of Prince William County Community Foundation.

The COVID-19 pandemic has exacerbated long-standing systemic health, social and economic inequities, disproportionality impacting communities of color. How does racial equity and justice continue to inform your organization’s work?

Prince William County Community Foundation’s efforts prioritize serving residents in Prince William County’s Economically Distressed Areas (EDAs) because they are most affected by poverty and subsequent health-related issues, such as food deserts and food insecurity. Communities of color, including Hispanic and African American populations, comprise over 70% of the County’s top 10 EDAs by zip code, with over 20% of those designated as poor. Furthermore, these 10 EDAs average median income is $30,000 less than the average of all other zip codes within the county, resulting in a considerable disparity regarding means, options, and access concerning healthy food options.

At the onset of the pandemic, Prince William County Community Foundation’s C.H.O.W. Wagon quickly pivoted to expand its reach and deliver even more meals to the Prince William County community. Can you explain the need in the community in which PWCCF was responding? 

COVID-19’s spread across the Prince William County region prompted a sudden and significant spike in the need for emergency assistance for the families serviced by PWCCF. Those already struggling with food insecurity sought to create food reserves per the recommendations of preparedness officials, and those who were newly unemployed sought help for the first time. At that moment, PWCCF realized that it was our duty to step up and increase our services to support our community.

Since the beginning of local shutdowns in the area, PWCCF has served the residents of Prince William County through weekly food distribution events at local schools where we provide both perishable and non-perishable food items for the whole family.

Our C.H.O.W. Wagon initiative increased the accessibility of healthy, nutritious food to individuals in need by bringing school meals and other grocery items directly into the neighborhoods of those in our community.

Our mission directly connects us to the goal of reducing the number of food-insecure individuals within Prince William County and across Virginia through a program that champions health equity.

Prince William County Community Foundation partnered closely with Prince William County Public Schools (PWCS) to deliver meals to students and their families during the school year and summer months beginning March 2020. How did this partnership form?

During the 2018-2019 school year, PWCCF reached out and provided a briefing to a member of the PWCS School Board about our desire to help feed food insecure students in our community. We were then connected with the school division’s Director of Food Services, where we were able to strategize and develop a plan to support PWCS with the distribution of school meals. With a formal partnership established, PWCCF began distributing school meals to children during summer 2019 to support families without reliable transportation to meal distribution sites located at schools. During this 10 week period, we helped distribute over 9,000 meals to children through our C.H.O.W. Wagon initiative.

Once the pandemic hit our community in March 2020, PWCCF knew that we needed to lean on our existing partnership with PWCPS to ensure children had access to school meals while they were learning from home. In addition to helping distribute school meals, we also began distributing supplemental grocery items at various schools across Prince William County. Through community donations and purchases made, the Foundation was able to provide boxed nonperishables; fresh fruits and vegetables; milk; frozen meats; and various other perishable food items. Our partnership with the school division allowed us to collectively meet the growing need in the county.


Photos Courtesy of Prince William County Community Foundation


How has PWCCF engaged and collaborated with other community organizations in the county to meet the needs of the community? And why have these partnerships been critical to the success of the program?

The C.H.O.W. Wagon initiative increases accessibility to nutritious foods by transporting meals directly to county residents and children, who do not have reliable transportation to and from food pantries and other meal distribution sites. In an effort to eradicate childhood and family hunger in our community, the C.H.O.W. Wagon initiative works closely with county food pantries, organizations, businesses, and individuals to collect food donations that are then packaged and bundled for families in need. As a result of our partnership and collaboration with members of the community, we are able to distribute a variety of food packages, from fresh produce, frozen meats such as fish and poultry, frozen soups, snacks, and non-perishable pantry items.

Were there any unanticipated challenges faced in operating the CHOW Wagon? How did Prince William County Community Foundation turn these challenges into opportunities? 

Yes, the number of families in need of support significantly increased weekly. To meet this growing demand and connect more food resources to children and families, the Foundation purchased an additional vehicle to cover more territory and reach more families across Prince William County. 

What has been the impact of the CHOW Wagon initiative to date? 

Since the start of the C.H.O.W. Initiative, PWCCF has served over 20,000 families, equating to over 350,000 meals (280,000+ pounds of food) served to County residents!

Looking ahead, what does the program look like in the next year? How about in the next 5 years?

To eradicate the issue of food insecurity plaguing communities, we are excited to launch our C.H.O.W. Wagon Affiliate Program. We want to stand up C.H.O.W. Wagon programs across neighboring communities to support those experiencing hunger throughout the state of Virginia and all across the United States. We are actively seeking C.H.O.W. Wagon champions to stand up new C.H.O.W. programs in communities throughout the country to support all individuals and families experiencing hunger across the nation. For more information on becoming a C.H.O.W. Wagon affiliate in your community, please reach out to us at president@pwccfoundation.org or 800-455-4773 (toll free).

Is there anything else you would like to share?

We are so grateful and honored to announce that the Prince William County Community Foundation was recently selected as the 2021 Nonprofit of the Year by the Town of Dumfries. Additionally, we received the 2021 Agnes L. Colgan Community Service Award: Health & Human Services from the Prince William Chamber of Commerce; and the 2021 Sojourner Truth Community Partner Award winner from George Mason University in recognition of our efforts towards social justice. 

No Kid Hungry Virginia is grateful for Dr. Gattis and her team’s commitment to serving Prince William County communities. To learn more about Prince William County Community Foundation’s work, visit https://pwccfoundation.org/