Union Mill Students Pitch in to Help the Hungry

Students make thousands of sandwiches for local food pantry.


What’s in the Spotlight? UMES Bread Basket  

Accomplishment: Each academic year, the Union Mill elementary school student body makes thousands of sandwiches that are donated to , Northern Virginia’s largest distributor of free food directly to people in need.  

Key to Success: While the holiday season is a popular time of year for schools, businesses and other organizations to donate food and supplies to charity, students at Union Mill are engaged in a community service project that allows them to give back year round.  

The school’s Bread Basket program gives classes the opportunity to make as many sandwiches as they can during a designated time slot. Bread Basket is held at Union Mill on Wednesdays October through June, and a different class is scheduled to participate each week. This year, there are more classes than Wednesdays, so the volunteer sessions are double booked through December to allow the entire student body to take part in the program. Each class makes roughly 325 to 350 sandwiches, which are immediately given to the Food for Others pantry in Fairfax. UMES students have already made over 4,200 sandwiches this school year.  

Bread Basket is sponsored by the Union Mill Parent Teacher Association (PTA) and chaired by UMES parent Kate Trussell, who was recently named the 2010-2011 Elementary Volunteer of the Year by the Virginia PTA. Each week the UMES PTA provides students with sandwich bread, plastic bags, mustard packets and sanitary gloves. When its their child’s week to make sandwiches, parents also send in lunch meat and cheeses for the class to use.  

“We are very fortunate at our school that both the teachers and the class parents are 100 percent behind the program and send in extra donations so we can make more sandwiches almost every single week,” Trussell said.  

To ensure that students get as much out of the program as possible, Trussell bookends each Bread Basket session with short civics and math lessons. She starts by explaining to students why the program is important and who they are making the sandwiches for. At the end of the session, the children test their math skills by estimating how many sandwiches they’ve made. Many teachers also encourage students to apply classroom concepts to the program by having them solve a math problem to determine how many slices of meat or cheese they each need to bring in in order to meet their class’s goal. 

Trussell’s favorite part of the Bread Basket program is seeing students gain perspective and appreciate how fortunate they are when they learn about underprivileged people, including children, living right here in Fairfax County.  

“They have learned that even though we live in an affluent county, there are still others right around us that are in need of assistance, and that these sandwiches give people a meal today that they would not otherwise have,” she said. 

Kate Trussell is currently serving her fourth year as chair of the Bread Basket program, which has been in existence for over 15 years. Students in grades one through six have traditionally participated in the program, and Trussell is particularly excited that the implementation of full day kindergarten will allow Union Mill’s youngest students to get involved this year.  

PTA funds and steady contributions from Union Mill parents keep the Bread Basket program going, but Trussell says in the future she’d love to see local grocery stores contribute to the community service effort by donating bread. In the meantime, the UMES community is hard at work making more sandwiches than it ever has in a single academic year.  

“This program is one small way our students can make a difference in another person’s life, and they are so proud to be able to help others in our community,” she said, “We made over 11,100 sandwiches last school year and are looking forward to breaking that record this year!” 


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