DAHLGREN, VA, UNITED STATES
DAHLGREN, Va. – On a warm evening in April in a small neighborhood park, a young boy and his family thanked Mr. Tim – the man behind the counter in the big red food truck – for dinner. Over the course of the evening, approximately 200 neighbors, wearing masks and practicing social distancing, enjoyed a delicious, well-balanced hot meal grilled up and served by Mr. Tim – one they may not have otherwise had.
“Mr. Tim” is Timothy White, Naval Surface Warfare Center Dahlgren Division (NSWCDD) dean of the Dahlgren Leadership Academy and supervisor training manager and the founder and executive director of Stafford Food Security (SFS), a nonprofit company established to provide meals for hungry children and families in the Fredericksburg area.
The food truck is the latest weapon in his arsenal to fight childhood hunger. Knowing firsthand what it was like to be a hungry child, White set out to help children in his community avoid the same experience. He founded SFS in 2017 when he donated backpacks containing enough food for a meal for four people to an elementary school in Stafford. The idea caught on quickly and grew to encompass 66 schools in Stafford, Spotsylvania and King George counties and the City of Fredericksburg – all within 18 months.
The initial concept was twofold. It had to be a complete meal and it had to be no extra work for educators. “We just wanted to make it as easy as possible, so the backpacks are packaged already,” said White. “All the teachers have to do is just grab a bag, hand it to the student and feed him instantly.”
When the COVID-19 pandemic hit in March 2020, backpack distribution came to an abrupt halt. White worked with school administrators and teachers to continue to get food delivered to the families in need, but he knew he would have to reinvent the distribution system. During one of the deliveries, White discovered what he calls “pockets of poverty” throughout the area, where many people in need lived near each other.
His solution? Community barbeques. At first, White brought a big grill into the neighborhoods, but soon realized he could do more. With the help of some community partners, SFS purchased a 26-foot food truck – fully equipped with a grill, fryer, refrigerator and warming ovens. Having the truck enables White’s team to prepare an assortment of foods ahead of time, and provides some variety to the menu.
You can find White and the big red truck in a different neighborhood each Tuesday and Thursday evening, feeding anywhere from 150 to 500 people. Each of these events feels like a gathering in White’s own backyard, which is exactly what he was trying to accomplish. “I like for people, when they come to these cookouts, to feel like they’ve come to my backyard for a cookout,” said White. “We’re trying to build that sense of community – letting people know someone cares about them and they are not alone. It’s about more than just filling an empty belly.”
White’s heart lies with the backpack meals, and with schools beginning to reopen, he hopes that the program will be back up and running again soon. He is also working on the logistics to add Westmoreland and Caroline counties into the distribution mix.
In the beginning, White and SFS used a small room in a local church to store the backpacks and food. As the program has grown – donations jumped from $50,000 in 2019 to over $200,000 in 2020 – so has the need for space. SFS now occupies a larger space in a shopping center, with a walk-in refrigerator and freezer to store supplies for the food truck. A classroom sits in the front of the space, and as soon as pandemic restrictions lift, White will use it to educate the communities he serves. On the agenda is basic budgeting and money management, how to enroll in college courses, apply for financial aid, write a resume and even participate in mock job interviews. “We don’t just want to feed their bellies – we also want to feed their minds and their souls.”
What is next for White and SFS? “I have a blurry vision of a few other ideas for the community,” he said with a grin. “Stay tuned.”
White received the Distinguished Community Service Award at the annual NSWCDD Honorary Awards Ceremony, and is among 105 individual employees and 36 teams honored with 22 different awards.