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'Children need to eat!': Meet the Maryland kindergarten teacher that spends her off-time feeding the hungry

Margaret Norris is a beloved teacher at Arcola Elementary School. When the pandemic struck, she knew she needed to jump into action to make sure children had food.

WASHINGTON — Like thousands of other teachers, Margaret Norris, spends her afternoons in front of the computer screen. She's transformed her kitchen into a teaching hub, equipped with an extra monitor. 

"We had to go home and learn how to do Zoom," she said. "And learn how to do everything online." 

Ms. Norris teaches a group of kindergarteners, aged five and six years old. She said the kids have become surprisingly effective at navigating the technology. Nonetheless, she said it can be chaotic at times.

"The adults in the room will be on their Zoom call," she said. "Or getting their child set up. And the baby is crying. And then you have the kindergartener with their earphone on. And right next to them is the 3rd grader. So we hear each other's background noises. I hear other teachers teach all day long."

Amid this home-learning madness, Ms. Norris has also given herself a second job: Food delivery. She thought of the idea on March 12, 2020, the day that schools closed. 

"They're going to need food," she said.

Ms. Norris said she immediately thought of the low-income students who rely on schools for their food. She also worried about the many parents who might be laid off. 

"The families that we work with are the first ones fired," she said. "They're the last ones hired. They don't have job security. They don't have healthcare. And so the least we can do is help them put food on the table." 

By March 13, the first Friday after schools closed, Ms. Norris was at the grocery store, purchasing food staples for local families. She started giving away bags full of beans, rice, pasta, tomatoes, veggies, and mac n cheese.

Credit: Evan Koslof
Margaret Norris giving away food at the Pembridge Square Apartments in Silver Spring

"Children need to eat," she said. "And the thing is they need to eat every day."

In order to pay for these groceries, Ms. Norris has collected donations from friends and family. At its peak, she was able to pack up 136 bags per week for needy families. Currently, she has been bagging up about 116 bags of food per week.

One-hundred of these bags are given away at the Pembridge Square Apartments Community Center in Silver Spring. Ms. Norris has been personally delivering the remaining bags to needy families in the community. 

"We don't want anyone in our community to tell a child you have to go to bed without eating," she said. "You have to wait until tomorrow because we don't have any food in the house. So, we do this for kids. So kids can eat."

Credit: Evan Koslof
Ms. Norris teaching kindergarten from her kitchen

On average, Ms. Norris said that the cost for all this is about $1,400 per week. This includes a portion of the funding that goes towards produce, given away at the community center. 

Ms. Norris said that donations can be given directly to Arcola Elementary School. However, she also urged people to look for Title I Schools in their area, to help their own local community. 

"What people can do is buy an extra bag of groceries at your own store," she said. "And find a family that you can help."

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