By Marianne Weaver
Although Prince William residents rank among the highest paid employees, living in some of the most expensive neighborhoods within the state’s top school districts, not everyone living in this region is reaping those benefits. The Metropolitan Council of Governments conducts an annual point-in-time count of the region’s homeless population. In 2019, they identified 277 homeless people.
But those are just the ones they could find. Throughout the region, individuals and families have fallen on hard times, unsure where to find their next meal. Local soup kitchens of all kinds help provide meals to those who most need them. Using the COG’s PIT count, along with other state and local data from the U.S. Census Bureau and Bureau of Labor Statistics, Feeding America, the nation’s largest domestic hunger-relief organization, conducted the Map the Meal Gap study to learn more about hunger at the local level. Based on numbers collected in 2016, their 2018 report found a food insecurity rate of 5.8% (26,310 people) — in Prince William; 5% (2,080 people) in Manassas and 4.6% (730 people) in Manassas Park.
Numerous churches and other nonprofit organizations have established food pantries where residents in need can stock up on groceries to prepare meals in their homes. It’s much rarer to find the stereotypical “soup kitchen.” But in Prince William, two organizations have stepped forward — and in some cases joined
forces — to feed meals to the hungry.
Stepping Out in Faith
Every Sunday at 12:30 p.m., a group of volunteers convene at the Portsmouth Commuter Lot on Williamson Boulevard and Portsmouth Road in Manassas — rain or shine — to serve the homeless and others who can’t provide their own meals.
“Every Sunday we offer 15 minutes of spiritual food followed by a physical meal and fellowship”, said Richard Godigkeit, founder and president of Manassas Hunger & Homeless Outreach Ministries.
He said he felt a religious calling in 2014. He had separated from the Army after an 11-year career and was working in IT for the federal government when the idea took hold. He began by serving on the board of directors for the Friends of the SERVE Homeless Shelter in Manassas, Virginia under the Northern Virginia Family Services.
“I decided to step out on faith,” he said.
Then, in 2016 he worked on the PIT count.
“I went out and counted the people living in tents, on the street, in doorways,” he said.
And that’s when he formulated his plan. He founded a group to provide meals and share the Gospel message with the local poor, hungry and homeless at weekly outreach events. By the end of the year, 925 meals were served at 45 weekly events.
In September 2017, that group was formally incorporated as the Manassas Hunger & Homeless Outreach Ministries, Inc. They have partnered with 25 Prince William churches and ministries and expanded the board of directors who participate in planning the weekly activities and providing support beyond the weekly outreach.
“A goal of ours is forming long-term relationships with those we serve, so we build trust and can better serve them by understanding their unique needs to include employment challenges and or substance abuse or mental health needs,” said Godigkeit.
Although the main mission continues to be serving weekly meals to the poor, they’ve added services. Guests are given personal hygiene items, bug spray, handwarmers, phone and laundry cards, prescription drug assistance, as well as ID card and document recovery. And although they don’t provide clothing, they have partnered with Bombas Socks to provide clean, new socks. They also offer haircuts for the homeless and orchestrate quarterly food drives to support local faith-based food pantries.
Godigkeit said MH&HO relies on the community to provide the food. There is no set menu and recent meals have included BBQ chicken, tacos, pasta dishes — whatever the volunteer individual or organization chooses to prepare.
“As a Christian missionary, I consider it an honor and a joy to have the opportunity through our street ministry to share the love of Christ by serving those that society has marginalized and to make a difference in their lives during the period they are experiencing hunger and/or homelessness,” said Godigkeit. “My
greatest joy is seeing folks transition to stable employment and housing, many of whom routinely return to update us on how their lives have improved.”
To learn how to volunteer, visit mhhoministries.org or the organization’s Facebook page.
In Manassas, First Baptist Church (9258 Center Street) serves free lunch every Thursday from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. and dinner the last Thursday of the month from 5 to 7 p.m. This effort is manned by First Baptist Church members and friends, dedicated to sharing the love of Christ with others within the Manassas
“Anyone can show up,” said Rev. Darryl R. Burgan, Sr., who is not only a board member and vice president of MH&HO, but also serves as the mission’s pastor of First Baptist Church of Manassas.
He said the church uses its vans to bring the homeless in for the meals, which range from soups and sandwiches to BBQ. “We also have an emergency assistance coordinator who helps in securing medications, Social Security cards and other forms of assistance, directing the homeless to available medical assistance, and providing other assistance as needed,” he said. “We not only provide those in need a fish for today, but we also try to direct them to the tools to allow them to fish for themselves.”
MH&HO will partner with the River Christian Center (10655 Lomond Drive, Manassas) to host special Thanksgiving and Christmas Eve meals.
“The church parishioners will donate the fixings for the meals and prepare them,” said Burgan. “Serving our unsheltered friends allows us to follow the biblical guidance of Christ, to act as a witness of his love and grace everywhere, from outside our doors to around the world. By showing Christ to others, through our words and deeds, we make an introduction to many that otherwise may not occur.”
He said they tend to see the same people at all the meals. “Our goal is to get them out of the woods and to not be needed,” said Godigkeit.
Marianne Weaver ([email protected]) is a contributing writer.