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Mason Alumni Work to Fight Hunger in Northern Virginia

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From left, Roxanne Rice (MPA ’97), Yusuf Azim (BS Biology ’12), and Jessica Cogen (MPP ’05) at Food for Others. Rice is the executive director, Azim is a volunteer, and Cogen is director of development and outreach. Photo courtesy of Jessica Cogen.

Although it’s considered one of the wealthiest jurisdictions in the country, Northern Virginia maintains a poverty rate of approximately 5 percent. This means that more than 90,000 people live in poverty—30 percent of which are children—and hundreds of thousands more lack adequate food, housing and transportation.

Food for Others (FFO), run by two George Mason University graduates, is determined to change that. Since 1995, FFO has provided a safety net for people facing unforeseen emergencies such as a family illness or the loss of a job or spouse. The program is now the largest direct free food distributor in Northern Virginia.

Roxanne Rice, MPA ’97, serves as FFO’s executive director, and Jessica Cogen, MPP ’05, is director of development and outreach. The two oversee a small staff of nine employees and 500 volunteers, feeding as many as 500 people every day of the year.

Just in time for back to school, FFO’s latest offering is its Power Pack Program for needy elementary school students. Every Friday afternoon a “power pack” of meals is sent home with lunch program children to keep them from going hungry over the weekend. The pack is light enough for children to carry and contains nutritious foods that need little or no preparation and appeal to kids. Feedback from teachers and students has been overwhelmingly positive.

“Our students and their families need the food,” says one counselor, “and certainly love getting it every week. It’s a huge success.”

FFO is funded in part by the Fairfax and Arlington County governments, and the Mason community offers crucial support as well. Over the last six years, Mason staff members and student groups have provided $50,000 worth of fresh produce and other groceries to the program through food drives and donations. Mason students and alumni often join in by donating their own food and funds, and by volunteering in the FFO warehouse.

Yusuf Azim, for instance, made time to volunteer in the warehouse this summer. Azim received a BS in biology from Mason last year, and is now working toward a medical degree at Virginia Commonwealth University.

Cogen says she’s extremely grateful to all her volunteers and feels a special kinship with Mason graduates in particular.

“Roxanne, Yusuf, and I are all proud to be Mason graduates,” says Cogen. “Having studied and worked at Mason, we’re not at all surprised by the great generosity of its students, professors, staff and alumni. But we sure are grateful to them for giving countless donations of food, funds and time to assist our neighbors in need by supporting Food for Others.”