Gar-Field High School serving free dinner for students in after-school programs

Gar-Field High School in Woodbridge is turning into quite the after-school hangout for students. The school is now providing dinner in a new program that started back in February.

But school officials said it is more than just a free meal for the students. In some ways, Gar-Field's cafeteria is home away from home for them.

"Many of our kids here don't have the opportunity to have dinner at home," said Serena Suthers, director of Food and Nutrition Service for Prince William County Public Schools.

"It's something that they know is taken care of and they don't have to worry about it," said Gar-Field principal Cherif Sadki.

Since February, the high school has been serving up full and well-balanced meals from 4 to 5 p.m. from Monday through Thursday. Activity buses are available to students to take them home at 4:30 p.m. or 5:20 p.m.

The program itself is sponsored by the U.S. Department of Agriculture. Gar-Field qualified for the program because more than 50 percent of the students are on free or reduced-priced meals. But here, no one is turned away. Any student who stays for an after-school activity is welcome to a meal.

"They are here for after-school help, tutorial help, for various clubs, for school sports, so they are already here," said Suthers.

The dinner program has actually turned Gar-Field into a popular after-school spot for students. The principal came up with the Champions Cafe, a special area for senior students to hang out. Students also supply the artwork hanging on the wall.

"We are serving up to 200 every night," said principal Cherif Sadki. "Students are relaxed. It's more of a social get-to-know each other again. I think that is what also matters because they are developing relationships as well."

And there is no division of low-income and high-income students. Everyone is welcome for the dinner program if they are in after-school activities.

Gar-Field high is the first school in Prince William County to have this dinner program.