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Food Co-op Employees Demand Higher Wages, Free Expression

Some Fredericksburg Food Cooperative employees want higher pay, free expression and the ability to attend board meetings.

hyperbole has obtained an email from the Board of Directors and General Manager to the Co-op’s owners on Wednesday evening. It explains that “several” employees had recently submitted a “list of demands” that included salary increases, the opportunity to attend Co-Op board meetings and permission to wear pins with social and political messages of their choice.

The letter says that the employees’ demands have been refused, citing fairness in negotiating with a group instead of on behalf of all employees, as well as the National Labor Relations Board, which is for “conducting elections in which each employees has a right to decide for themselves…and determine if they, in fact, wish to be represented by such a group.” It’s not entirely clear in what manner the employees have elected to organize thus far, nor their status as full or part-time.

The letter continues by explaining to owners that the Co-op’s starting pay of $10 / hour in their opening year in 2021 has increased to a rate of $14 / hour today, “with almost all employees earning more than that…despite the fact that the Co-op has not yet had a profitable year.” The Co-op is open to increasing employee salaries as it “gains stronger financial footing.”

The Co-op’s letter reminded everyone that board meetings are open to employees and the public alike, but held firm on the demand to wear political and social messaging, as well.

“Our concern is that the Co-op is not a political entity; we are a consumer-owned grocery store where all are welcome regardless of race, color, religion, national origin, sex, familial status and mobility.

The Fredericksburg Food Co-op opened in 2021 after merging nearly $2.5 million in private donations with a $1.4 million loan from the National Co-op Bank. Anyone can purchase ownership in the Co-op for $200. One of the benefits the Co-op advertises to owners is “a voice in the Food Co-op’s governance.” The Co-op’s website is advertising open positions for cashiers, stockers and cooks.

The Bureau of Labor Statistics places Fredericksburg’s average weekly wage at $1,160. A full-time employee working 40 hours per week at a wage of $14.00 takes home $560 per week. The national average exceeds $1,300.

This story will be updated with details as they become available.

Ceili Leahy Day of Service

Nearly 150 James Monroe High School seniors took part in the 12th annual Ceili Leahy Day of Service last Friday, each lending their efforts to a local non-profit while earning credits towards graduation. It was the second year of partnership between Fredericksburg City Public Schools and the Ceili Leahy Service Project, which founded the event.

Students rolled up their sleeves and got to work at one of a dozen area projects around town, with tasks including everything from garden work and litter clean-up to planting trees and painting murals. This year’s itinerary included scheduled projects at the following locations:

  • Downtown Greens – weeding and working in the lower garden.
  • Tree Fredericksburg – mulching trees on Idlewild Boulevard.
  • Friends of the Rappahannock – litter cleanup around Cossey Pond and Kenmore Park.
  • Fairy Godmother Project – organizing meal and art supplies.
  • Thurman Brisben Center – sorting and tidying the family and kids rooms.
  • Rappahannock Area Community Service Board – packaging Narcan kits.
  • Washington Heritage Museum – washing the wall of the Mary Washington Monument.
  • James Monroe High School – mural painting with artist Gabriel Pons.

Some students also chose to volunteer reading to younger students at Hugh Mercer and Lafayette Elementary Schools. Others continued their efforts into this week, with students scheduled to plant trees at Old Walker-Grant Middle School.

The idea for a partnership between James Monroe High School and the Ceili Leahy Service Project started with Fredericksburg City Public Schools CTE Coordinator Kristi Allison, who was looking for ways to provide students with “high quality work-based learning” opportunities while satisfying their Career and Technical Education (CTE) requirement for graduation. These are experiences that coincide with a student’s interests and goals, can integrate with their course work, and includes partnerships with local businesses and organizations.

Allison reached out to Leslie and John Leahy, founders and organizers of the Ceili Leahy Service Project, who also saw the potential in a collaboration. They established the event in honor of their daughter, a James Monroe High School graduate of the Class of ’14, who passed away from cancer in 2016. At the time Allison approached, the couple weren’t sure how much longer their outreach would continue.

“We were going to stop after 10 (years). And we were kind of heartbroken, because not everything lasts,” remembers Leslie Leahy.

The idea from Allison provided the inspiration (and assistance) the couple needed to continue their work. Fredericksburg City Public Schools taking over organizing efforts has allowed the two parents to pivot to a supportive roll, which was the boost the Leahy’s needed to keep going.

“We feel like we have another opportunity to continue to inspire students and help them realize the importance of community service,” Leahy says.

This year, approximately half of the volunteer students were fulfilling their requirement for graduation. Leahy hopes students will stay connected with the community
around them well after taking off their caps and gowns.
 

“We hope they want to do more. Ceili was a really big volunteer and loved to do community service.”

Since 2017, the state of Virginia has required high school students to fulfill a CTE requirement.
 
The Day of Service, which satisfies this requirement, is more than just the several hours of work in the field. Students first spend several class periods researching a local non-profit of their choice and writing a brief reflective piece about its work and impact. And while fulfilling a requirement certainly spurs some students to get active, Allison finds many others taking in the true spirit of volunteerism.
 
“The students really see this as an opportunity to give back to the community while also fulfilling a graduation requirement. We’d like to see this become more of a tradition and something that students look forward to being a part of every year,” says Allison.
 
While the Ceili Leahy Day of Service has hitherto only included seniors, Allison and Deputy Superintendent Dr. Eberhardt have plans to expand the day to include all Fredericksburg City Public School students. 
 
Local businesses can sponsor the event for $250 and receive their logo on the event t-shirt.
 
Learn more about the Ceili Leahy Service Project and the Ceili Leahy Day of Service at bit.ly/3xNKqkv.

Eid Al-Fitr Prayer

Hundreds gathered for 🌙 Eid Al-Fitr prayer with the Islamic Center of Fredericksburg on Wednesday morning.

Fredericksburg Reports 173 Children Living Homeless

Nearly 100 area children are currently residing in area hotels, as well as the Thurman Brisben Homeless Shelter, Empowerhouse and Loisann’s Hope House. With several months remaining in the school year, the current number of homeless children reflects a nearly 30% increase over last year’s end-of-year tally of 135.

The point-in-time counts, which were completed in late January, reveal an additional 493 homeless children in Spotsylvania, 214 homeless children in Stafford, 68 homeless children in King George and and additional 15 homeless children in Caroline County. King George County also reported six unsheltered children. Stafford County reported three.

The McKinney-Vento Act of 1987 tasks local education agencies with tracking and provisioning homeless students with school enrollment, attendance and additional support at their “school of origin.” This means that if a student experiences a change in residence as a result of homelessness, administrators must make reasonable efforts to ensure that the student can remain in attendance without the experiencing the interruption of switching schools.

Once identified, a student must re-certify with the school’s social worker each year that they are still experiencing homelessness. Homeless children not yet old enough to attend school are tracked and assisted by the Department of Social Services.

Homelessness is defined as living in the following places “due to a lack of a fixed, regular and adequate nighttime residence”:

– In an emergency or transitional shelter
– In a motel, hotel, or campground due to lack of an adequate alternative
– Doubled up with relatives or friends due to loss of housing or economic hardship
– In the above conditions and is a migratory child or youth

Additionally, “unsheltered” children are defined as those “living in abandoned buildings, campgrounds and vehicles, space not meant for habitation, trailers or FEMA trailers, cars, bus and train stations, and abandoned in the hospital.”

Each area locality’s point-in-time counts as returned from late January 2024 are recorded below (the total number of students was cited from the National Center for Education Statistics):

City of Fredericksburg (3,762 students total)
Shelter (44)
Doubled Up (47)
Hotel / Motel (55)
Unsheltered (0)
Unaccompanied (12)

Spotsylvania County (24,201 students total)
Shelter (16)
Doubled Up (315)
Hotel / Motel (102)
Unsheltered (0)
Unaccompanied (60)

Stafford County (31,105 students total)
Shelter (5)
Doubled Up (153)
Hotel / Motel (83)
Shelter (3)
Unaccompanied (0)

King George County (4,521 students total)
Shelter (0)
Doubled Up (42)
Hotel / Motel (21)
Unsheltered (6)
Unaccompanied (0)

Caroline County (4,337 students total)
Shelter (3)
Doubled Up (3)
Hotel / Motel (9)
Unsheltered (0)
Unaccompanied (0)

In a late February phone interview, Fredericksburg City Public Schools social worker and McKinney-Vento liason Jennifer Bunn confirmed an additional 15 homeless children, as well as a “a couple” of families living in personal vehicles within the city. It’s a condition that Bunn, who has been in the area for three years, hasn’t witnessed before.

So who is helping these children?

Federal funds help but don’t cover everything. Virginia utilizes Project Hope, a program administered by William & Mary for the Department of Education that distributes sub-grants to local school divisions across the state. Project Hope assists with everything from early childhood education and tutoring to health service referrals, school supplies and transportation. For older youth, the program helps with GED testing, obtaining required employment documents, runaway prevention and career and technical training resources.

Locally, churches and other houses of worship provide gift cards, snacks, sports equipment and uniforms and field trips to youth experiencing homelessness. Schools have also partnered with area urgent care clinics for health services.

More than 18,000 children have been identified as homeless across Virginia each year for the last three years.

Tulip Drop

🌷 Four years ago…
 
Fredericksburg came together during the early days of the pandemic for the first ever Tulip Drop, courtesy of 💐 Bloomia. The flower grower and distributor handed out dozens of tulips in a drive-through giveaway that occupied more than two blocks in downtown Fredericksburg and included dozens of volunteers.
 
The company followed up the following year with a second event benefitting Gwyneth’s Gift Foundation before starting the local TulipsFXBG Facebook group that plants bulbs locally around town.
 
Bloomia employs more than 125 workers at its greenhouse in King George County who help the company grow more than 75 million tulips each year.

Nearly Two-Thirds Of City Housing Occupied By Renters, 3rd Highest In State

Nearly 62% of housing in the City of Fredericksburg is occupied by renters, the 13th highest rate in the country and third highest in the state, according to a recent report from Overflow Data.

The city’s renter rate of 61.5% joins seven other Virginia localities on the top 25, including Petersburg (62.6%), Harrisonburg (61.9%) and Emporia (60%). Kalawao County, Hawaii (100%) tops the overall list, followed by Kenedy County, Texas (84.2%) and Bronx County, New York (80%).

The percentage of renter-occupied households in Fredericksburg is trending downward; a report from Stacker in 2021 placed 64.5% of households renting, which was the highest in Virginia at the time.

Fredericksburg’s renter rates are inverse the national average, where nearly two thirds of Americans own their homes.

Find the full report from Overflow Data at bit.ly/431Cgk6.