Traditionally Fairfax County has had a low food-insecurity rate compared to other areas, but that number has doubled since the start of the pandemic, according to the Fairfax Food Council website.
Two local charities that have helped to feed needy Fairfax County families have reported that while needs have increased, the community has been generous in helping out during this time of need.
“Initially, we experienced a significant drop in the donations we receive from grocery stores because of the panic shopping that took place in the spring,” explained Bridget Snydstrup, Food for Others communications coordinator. “Grocery stores had less to donate and distributors were unable to keep up with grocery store demand, much less from food banks.”
Snydstrup explained that without the donated food from grocery stores, FFO had to increase the amount of food they purchased from 6 to 28 percent. “On the other hand, since March, we have received a lot more donations from individuals and food drives than usual,” she said. “The community has been extremely generous.”
“Donations from individuals have increased allowing us to expand services to include outreach to neighborhoods with large numbers of WFCM clients to provide supplemental food,” said Harmonie Taddeo, executive director of Western Fairfax Christian Ministries.
Both FFO and WFCM partner with area companies, churches and civic organizations for support. Some of those include Wegmans, Whole Foods, Giant, Food Lion, AIRBUS, United Bank, Dominion Energy, Boy Scouts, Costco, Great American Restaurants, JK Community Farm, Expectation Church, Dulles Regional Chamber of Commerce, local Lions and Rotary Clubs, and many more.
FFO is currently serving an average of 4,000 families every two weeks, which is double the number of families they usually serve, according to Snydstrup. Likewise, WFCM used to serve about 300 to 400 families per month pre-pandemic and they are now serving 600-plus families each month in addition to supplemental food provided through outreach to low income communities, according to Taddeo.
“Those numbers do not include our partnerships with distributing Farmers to Families Food Boxes to thousands of families throughout the pandemic,” said Taddeo. “We are distributing 600 boxes weekly; 300 boxes go directly to neighborhoods WFCM serves and the other 300 are distributed by local churches and non-profits such as Cornerstones, Mount Olive Baptist Church, Chantilly Bible Church and others.”
Farmers to Family Food Boxes is a USDA program where USDA partners with national, regional and local distributors whose workforces have been significantly impacted by the closure of restaurants and other food service businesses to purchase fresh produce, meat and dairy products, according to the USDA Agricultural Marketing Service website. Distributors then package those products into family-sized boxes and transport them to food banks and other non-profits serving Americans in need.
FFO distributes emergency food at their warehouse to clients referred by the county and other social service providers. “Clients who qualify based on income eligibility may visit our warehouse for monthly food supplements that we order on their behalf from USDA,” explained Snydstrup. “We also distribute food at 16 low-income neighborhood sites on weekday evenings. At those sites, clients do not need to bring any paperwork; they are only asked how many people are in their household”
In addition to providing food, WFCM provides toiletries in their client choice food pantry and financial assistance for qualified residents of western Fairfax County, according to Taddeo. “During the holiday season we provide holiday food baskets,” she said. “We are fortunate that Our Neighbors Child provides gifts for families in need.” According to Taddeo, it takes about $60,000 in donated funds and food to serve 600 families holiday food, which comes out to about $100 per family.
Both organizations are requesting continued monetary and food donations as well as volunteers through the holiday season. Community members can also hold food drives, according to both Snydstrup and Taddeo. Those interested in helping can visit wfcmva.org or foodforothers.org for more information.
“Follow Food for Others on Facebook, Instagram Linkedin or Twitter and help us spread the word about hunger in Northern Virginia,” said Snydstrup.
For those families seeking assistance during the holidays, please visit https://bit.ly/3n1ALNf.