And the Winners Are… The Giving Back Awards

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By Marianne Weaver

Part of the Prince William Living mission is to enhance the quality of life in our community and inspire our readers to do the same. In every issue, we feature organizations that give back through their mission and good works.

Once a year, we invite our readers to nominate outstanding not-for-profit groups in Prince William County, Manassas and Manassas Park for our “Giving Back Award.” This year, just as in the previous years, the nominations poured in. A combination of public nominations and voting and evaluation by PWL judges
is used to determine the winners. By including a public vote, we hope to build awareness of the many nonprofit organizations working to enhance Prince William while we also discover new opportunities to give back.

This year, we chose ACTION in Community Through Service (ACTS) food rescue, with honorable mentions to the NOVEC HELPS and Project Mend-A-House.

ACTION in Community Through Service

ACTS

The ACTION in Community Through Service, or ACTS, established a food bank in Prince William County more than 50 years ago. As the non-profit organization has evolved to address domestic violence, sexual assault, homelessness, emergency assistance and suicide, feeding the hungry has remained a core mission. They launched the ACTS Prince William Food Rescue in August 2019.

The program is modeled on the Food Rescue Hero technology developed by 412 Food Rescue, a Pittsburgh-based food recovery and redistribution initiative that prevents usable food from entering the waste stream, while delivering healthy food directly to people who need it. PWFR partners with food retailers, nonprofit organizations and food rescue heroes to collect unused food from farms, wholesalers, grocery stores, restaurants, caterers and other food outlets that is then delivered to those experiencing food insecurity.

“We seek to solve the disconnect between the fact that 40% of our food is wasted while one in seven go hungry,” said Aaron Tolson, program director. “Additionally, produce creates methane gas as it decomposes, and it is estimated that 30% of the weight of our landfills is discarded produce. We simultaneously reduce food waste, hunger and harmful greenhouse gas emissions by rescuing and redirecting food in our community.”

During the COVID-19 crisis, PWFR coordinated with the PWC Emergency Operations Center to establish the Community Feeding Taskforce.

“Our mission is to ensure food distribution sites around the greater Prince William region are able to meet the increased food insecurity demand,” he said. “We collaborated with Volunteer Prince William to setup a Food Helpline, redirecting callers to their nearest food pantry or setting up a no-contact, direct delivery from the pantry to their homes (if they are a shut-in family or senior citizen) using our app.”

He said the warehouse allowed for the redistribution of 6,000 boxes of produce and 480 cases of milk every week to nearly 60 distribution sites throughout the county, Manassas and Manassas Park.

“Our Food Rescue Heroes and box truck drivers complete 300 rescues and move 250,000 pounds of food into our community each week,” he said. “That’s the equivalent of 130,000 meals.”

For more information about PWFR, visit pwfoodrescue.org.

NOVEC HELPS

NOVEC’s Ann Phares displays some of the Thanksgiving food NOVEC HELPS collected in 2019. NOVEC photo

Hands Engaged in Local Public Service, or HELPS, is a NOVEC-supported effort that supports and sponsors a wide range of nonprofit charitable, civic and educational youth activities in Northern Virginia.

“From feeding the homeless and supporting emergency services, to raising funds to fight diseases, NOVEC HELPS is dedicated to supporting organizations and individuals within Northern Virginia Electric Cooperative’s service territory,” said Marianne Gesotti, who nominated the organization.

NOVEC HELPS was established in 2010 by employees of Northern Virginia Electric Cooperative to meet the needs of residents in the counties the co-op serves.

“As a former employee, not only would I contribute to NOVEC HELPS, but I would volunteer to assist when local organizations needed manpower, like helping at Youth for Tomorrow’s Annual Country Fair every October,” she said. “NOVEC HELPS also provides support to charitable organizations in which their employees and NOVEC customers are involved. NOVEC HELPS provided assistance to the Manassas Symphony Orchestra at my request to help the symphony perform at the 50th Anniversary Gala for Northern Virginia Community College.”

Since its inception, NOVEC HELPS has donated and/or provided volunteers to local organizations including Youth for Tomorrow; Community Residences, Inc.; SERVE; ACTS; Toys for Tots; Project Mend-A-Home; Rainbow Therapeutic Riding Center; Serve Our Willing Warriors Bull Run Retreat Center; CASA; Easter Seals and the Red Cross.

“It has collected and distributed food, toys, blankets, clothing and school supplies to local shelters and organizations,” she said. “Volunteer crews organized by NOVEC HELPS have repaired local homes, the Willing Warrior Retreat at Bull Run and the Therapeutic Riding Center in Haymarket. NOVEC HELPS has
also provided visibility for local charitable organizations on its website and at NOVEC annual meetings.”

To help families impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic, NOVEC HELPS donated more than $10,000 to local food banks and provided volunteers to assist with food distribution. For more information, visit novechelps.org.

Project Mend-A-House

Manassas-based Project Mend-A-House was founded in 1984 to help veterans, seniors, persons with disabilities and low-income residents of Prince William, Manassas and Manassas Park with free home repairs and modifications, allowing them to live independently in a safe, secure and healthy home.

“Our organization is in the heart of communities throughout the county, helping our most vulnerable residents in dire need of critical home repairs,” said John Swirchak, CEO/executive director. “Imagine your furnace going out in the dead of winter and you don’t have the resources to fix it. Or you can’t get up and down your front steps because you are wheelchair bound. You need a ramp but you don’t have the money or any family who can help you. Who do you turn to? You can turn to Project Mend-A-House. We are the only organization in the county that can do these repairs on your behalf.”

The organization is fueled by volunteers:

  • Plumbers, electricians, carpenters, home repair specialists and trade professionals
  • Volunteers who help with marketing, administration, fundraising, web development, and community outreach
  • Partnerships with businesses and organizations that provide financial support to cover the costs of purchasing ramps, grab rails/bars, furnaces, lumber, hardware and more

“The impact on our clients and their families’ lives is immeasurable,” said Talbot Abshire, project manager. “You can see it in their smiles and that’s what makes it all worthwhile.”

For more information, visit pmahweb.org.

Nominees

Agape Love In Action
agapeloveinaction.com
ALIA is a 501(c)(3) charitable organization dedicated to making a difference in the lives of those in need and bettering the lives of everyone they help. Their programs include the Hope in a Bag initiative, Wisdom Meets Technology senior computer literacy classes, disaster relief and support for our veteran service members through the Business Battle Buddy initiative.

American Foundation for Suicide Prevention—National Capital Area Chapter
afsp.org/chapter/national-capital-area
The American Foundation for Suicide Prevention is dedicated to saving lives and bringing hope to
those affected by suicide. AFSP has local chapters in all 50 states and the District of Columbia with programs and events nationwide. The AFSP National Capital Area Chapter serves the Washington, D.C. and Northern Virginia areas.

FFT Helping Others
fft-helpingothers.com/
FFT Helping Others is a grassroots advocacy 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization that aids families
and individuals in Prince William County and surrounding areas through domestic violence and
human trafficking and spreading awareness about these issues.

GFWC Woman’s Club of Manassas, Inc.
facebook.com/pg/GFWC-Womans-Club-ofManassas-Inc-137107602999426/about/?ref=page_internal
The General Federation of Women’s Clubs of Manassas, Inc. promotes the civic and cultural welfare of the community.

Humanity First USA
usa.humanityfirst.org/
Humanity First USA is dedicated to serving humanity and safeguarding human life and human dignity. As an international humanitarian relief and development non-profit organization with 52 independent chapters globally, their goal is to reduce suffering as much as possible by focusing on relieving suffering caused by natural disasters and human conflict, promoting peace and understanding based upon mutual tolerance
and respect, and strengthening people’s capacity to help themselves.

Letters of Hope
letterofhope.org
The mission of Letters of Hope is to spread hope through hand-written encouraging letters to
individuals dealing with hardships. Their motto is “words matter” and they believe a set of words
can change a person’s life and mindset.

Prince William County Community Foundation, Inc.
pwccfoundation.org
By helping to improve the quality of life in the community, Prince William County Community
Foundation, Inc. promotes community solutions through research and actions that will advance
the common good. The foundation’s objective is to help build strong communities where by
promoting social, environmental and economic health through various initiatives.

StreetLight Community Outreach Ministries
thestreetlight.org
StreetLight Community Outreach Ministries is a nonprofit organization that was established in
2004 to alleviate suffering among the poor and homeless.

Marianne Weaver ([email protected]) is a freelance editor and writer. She earned a BA from the University of Pittsburgh and an MJ from Temple University. 

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