Batten Food Drive Supports 120 Local Families Through Partnership with Madison House

The event will provide Charlottesville residents with a hearty traditional meal this holiday season.

Batten School Holiday Sharing
Batten students Ethan Betterton (MPP ’22), Paulina Keim (MPP ’22) and Savannah Rogers (MPP ’22), along with Shawn Anderson, Batten’s assistant director of student services, sort food for the Batten School’s holiday food drive. (Contributed photo)

Last Saturday, Valery Schneider (MPP ’22) and her husband, Max Schneider (MPP ’22), went on a mission to Target. 

They bought an array of festive foods — from mashed potatoes and gravy to hot chocolate and ginger snaps — but not for themselves. The Schneiders were shopping for the Batten School’s holiday food drive, which aims to provide 120 local families with a hearty traditional meal this season.

Launched as part of a new partnership between Batten and Madison House, an independent volunteer center for students at the University of Virginia, the drive complements Holiday Sharing, a program that numbers among Madison House’s oldest and has long provided Charlottesville families with food and personalized gifts for the holidays. Due to the pandemic, a community partner that had been assisting with food for the families was unable to do so this year, so the Batten community stepped in to fully fund and shop for food for all 120 families participating in the Holiday Sharing program.

“Buying the hot chocolate especially made me happy,” said Valery Schneider, who serves on Batten Graduate Council and helped organize the drive. “And of course all the ingredients for green bean casserole, including the French fried onions. It’s just such a classic dish.”

Anna Wallace, a UVA bachelor’s student in Kinesiology, directs Holiday Sharing — and like Schneider, she found that purchasing hot chocolate packets gave her mood a little boost. “Kids love hot chocolate,” she said. Picturing them sipping cocoa with their parents made her think about how the meals will encourage families to spend time together.

“With COVID, people still aren’t seeing a lot of other people,” she added. “If we can help them appreciate family during the stressful holidays, that would be great.”

Before the pandemic, “distribution day” for the Holiday Sharing program was a busy and exciting time. Many families came to Madison House to pick up their food and gifts — and since the latter are often supposed to come from Santa, the students found fun ways to distract the kids.

“UVA Dining would donate cookie decorating sets, and we’d take the kids into the back of the house to pile on the icing and the sprinkles,” Wallace said. “The parents would be excited too, because their kids didn't notice us sneaking out to put three boxes and a bike in the trunk of their car.”

The scene will be more subdued this year: Families will arrive during scheduled time slots and avoid congregating inside. But Batten staff and members of the undergraduate and graduate councils — who have worked with Madison House to plan the food drive portion of this year’s program — hope that the occasion will still feel special. 

Madison House Holiday Sharing
Madison House student volunteers with new bicycles that were donated to local children for the Madison House Holiday Sharing program. (Photo by Dan Addison, University Communications)

Rather than bringing whatever food they feel like donating, participants are instead purchasing items from a set grocery list, which includes foods that have special meaning for the student organizers. That way, each family will receive a full meal “kit”: everything they need to make a traditional holiday dinner.

“After consulting with a community partner dedicated to ending food insecurity, we knew we didn’t want this to be just people cleaning out their pantries,” said dean of students Jill Rockwell. “It's meant to be a more thoughtful and intentional contribution. By providing families with a grocery gift card, in addition to the actual food, we are likewise promoting food sovereignty, allowing people to make more personal choices for their families.”

Families will also only receive food that they have means to prepare. “I wanted to include microwave popcorn, but our director of operations pointed out that a lot of families probably don’t have microwaves,” Wallace said. “We tried not to assume that they had things we might take for granted.” 

Holiday Sharing is one of 24 programs Madison House hosts, which range in focus from tutoring in schools to community gardens to tax preparation. Batten has long supported the center and Holiday Sharing in particular — but never before in a formal capacity. 

“I’d always talk with colleagues and find out that a lot of us had independently reached out to Madison House,” Rockwell said. “So we decided this year to pool our efforts, and we're very excited to step into a more impactful and strategic partnership.”

Madison House will be accepting monetary donations and meal components from the grocery list up until December 3. Anyone who participates will be entered into a raffle for two balcony seats with Ian Solomon, dean of the Batten School, during graduation. Other prizes include a private dinner in Dean Solomon’s pavilion, a week of coveted “VIP parking” adjacent to Garrett Hall and a gift basket of Batten merchandise.

Although donating food might seem removed from the public service work that Batten students will take on in their careers, Rockwell said that it actually aligns with an important message woven throughout the School’s curriculum.

“We encourage students to think about the people behind the policies,” she explained. “So pulling together a meal for a family is quite meaningful. This is also about recognizing that there are folks who have really strong needs right in our own backyard.”

Schneider agreed. “This shows us that you don't have to be in Congress or the State House — you can help people right where you are,” she said. These kinds of service opportunities also prepare students to lead in the future, she added: When they witness problems in their own communities, they can take that knowledge with them and push for change once they take on roles in local, state and federal government.

Madison House Holiday Sharing
Madison House Holiday Sharing student volunteers. (Contributed photo)

Rockwell and Shawn Anderson, Batten’s assistant director of student services, have been impressed with the passion that participants have shown for the food drive, whether they’re designing signs to post around Grounds or crafting emails to gather support.

“Engaging with students, faculty, staff and alumni who are active in their service and demonstrate great leadership within the UVA and Charlottesville communities has been both inspiring and heartwarming,” Anderson said. 

The students’ enthusiasm has been especially contagious, according to Rockwell. “Even in these busy days toward the end of the semester, with the stress of the holidays and news of the pandemic, everyone is still very excited and saying things like, ‘Of course we can do this,’” she said.

And for Schneider, that excitement feels completely natural. 

“You get to help people, you get to celebrate a fun time of year, you get to feel connected to your cohort, your school and your community,” she said. “There's just no downside here.”

To make a monetary donation to the food drive, use this giving form and select “Batten Student Council” as the designation. A donation of $25 will provide a family with a gift card for a turkey or a ham, $50 will cover all sides, and $75 will pay for a full meal for a family of four to six. If you would like to purchase non-perishable items for a holiday meal kit to be dropped off in Garrett Hall, email Shawn Anderson at for the grocery list. Monetary donations to Madison House, which will support the purchase of holiday gifts for families, can be made here.

Garrett Hall at Sunset

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