Feeding the Hungry

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By Marianne E. Weaver

According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, food insecurity is the lack of “assured ability to acquire
acceptable foods in socially acceptable ways.” Based on 2016 Bureau of Labor Statistics data, Feeding America, a nonprofit, nationwide network of 200 food banks, found that six percent of the people living in Prince William—that’s more than 26,000 people—are food insecure.

“Roughly one in 15 people in Prince William County is at risk for hunger,” said Whitney Richardson, director of agency communications for Northern Virginia Family Service (NVFS). “According to the Virginia Department of Education, during the 2017-18 school year, 42 percent of students in Prince William County were on a free or reduced fee lunch program; that number increased to 56 percent in Manassas City Public Schools and 62 percent in Manassas Park Public Schools. When school is out, resources, such as the Hunger Resource Center, become that much more critical to ensure children and their families have access to meals.”

Across the region, nonprofit organizations have stepped up to provide food—and sometimes additional services—to families and individuals who don’t always know where to find their next meal.

The Hunger Resource Center

The Hunger Resource Center, 10058 Dean Drive, Manassas, is owned and operated by Northern Virginia Family Service, a private nonprofit that serves more than 35,000 individuals annually across the Northern Virginia region.

NVFS was founded in 1924 to provide basic needs such as coats and coal to families in need. In 2009, NVFS merged with SERVE, which was founded in 1975 by a group of volunteers from 17 churches and 14 local organizations in Prince William.

Today, said Richardson, the merged organization “empowers more than 35,000 people annually to improve their quality of life and to promote community cooperation and support in responding to family needs.”

Since the merger, NVFS expanded services to include a 92-bed facility, an Early Head Start classroom, home-visiting services, housing and health access programs, and the 8,000-square-foot Hunger Resource Center.

“The Hunger Resource Center serves nearly 5,000 people each year, predominantly from the Greater Prince William area,” said Richardson. “Families comprise the majority of our clients with an even mix of two-parent and single-parent households. Most are renters and have moderate access to stable housing but are struggling to make ends meet and need help ensuring there is healthy food for their families to eat.”

The center offers a variety of produce, non-perishables and refrigerated items, including fresh fruits and vegetables, canned goods, condiments, pasta and cereal, as well as other basic necessities, such as diapers and wipes, toilet paper and laundry detergent.

The center has forged partnerships with local grocery stores, including Giant, Wegmans and Food Lion, but also relies on volunteers to both fill the shelves and stock them. Donations can be dropped off Monday, Tuesday, Thursday and Friday from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m., Wednesdays 9 a.m. to 7 p.m. and Saturdays from 8 to 11 a.m. For more information about volunteering, go to nvfs.org/get-involved/volunteer.

Haymarket Regional Food Pantry

The Haymarket Regional Food Pantry (HRFP), 6611 Jefferson Street, Haymarket, was founded in 2005, while operating out of a closet in St. Paul’s Anglican Church.

“Over the years, the St. Katharine Drexel Mission and the Town of Haymarket joined the board of directors to provide parishioner support and leadership,” said Kim Golub, marketing volunteer. In 2010, the HRFP was established as a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization. “After years of support, our board of
directors has expanded to include representatives from St. Paul’s Episcopal Church, St. Katharine Drexel, Town of Haymarket, Gainesville United Methodist Church, and Park Valley Church.”

Golub said as of July 2018, HRFP has served 412 active registered clients, which is roughly 1,718 people per month. Often, she said, clients find themselves seeking help after “major unexpected expenses,” such as job loss, car/house accident or medical bills.

“Clients may come as often as once per week and are given enough food to supplement their registered household size for three days,” said Golub. “In summer months when we have additional produce (donated by local farmers and grocery stores), they may get extra produce.”

Through donations from nearby grocery stores, the pantry can offer shelf-stable items, such as canned meats and vegetables, peanut butter, and jelly. Golub said HRFP has also forged relationships with local farmers and hunters, making it possible to provide fresh produce and frozen meat.

The pantry is 100-percent volunteer operated. It relies on donations of time, talent and resources.

“We have a professional chef who comes in once a week for cooking demonstrations,” said Golub. “He uses food from the pantry and shows how to make healthy and creative food. This makes the shopping experience a lot more enjoyable.”

Donations can be dropped off weekdays 10 a.m. to noon, as well as Mondays 1 to 3 p.m., Tuesdays, Thursdays and Fridays from 3 to 5 p.m., and Wednesdays 4 to 7 p.m. Food is distributed Tuesdays and Thursdays 6 to 8 p.m. and Saturdays 9 a.m. to noon.

“Give early; give often,” said Golub. “Thanksgiving is a time when everyone donates. But in March and April, people forget about it. Think about us all year.” For more information, visit haymarketfoodpantry.org.

food pantry giving back 1018

Shelves at local food pantries need donations year-round.

House of Mercy

Like the Haymarket pantry, House of Mercy, 8170 Flannery Ct., Manassas, began with humble beginnings. The 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization was founded in 2005 in Bristow. “The founders, Fr. Jack Fullen and Kellie Ross, began this ministry from her basement, by taking food to those sleeping on the streets of Washington, D.C.,” said Jessica Root, executive director. “They decided to start this ministry a little closer to home as there are many people in need in Prince William County.”

Today, the pantry serves any family or individual in need. “This area has a particularly high cost of living; therefore, it is even more difficult for families to earn enough income to pay for the basic necessities,” said Root. “Many of the families and individuals we serve are working-class poor. They just can’t make ends meet. This could be for a variety of reasons, some being a recent loss of a job, recently moving to the area, or being here for a long time but not being able to keep up with the growth and
increase in cost of living.”

Food is provided at no cost, every other week. The standard wish list includes canned soups, tuna, chicken, green beans, corn, diced tomatoes, pasta and pasta sauce, macaroni and cheese, cereal and peanut butter.

“We wish we could offer more fresh fruits and vegetables, meats, dairy and financial assistance,” she said. “We just don’t get enough donations to help everyone. For instance, we can usually provide a pair of shoes for each child during the back-to-school shoes program, but we strive to give additional items
like backpacks, school supplies, new underwear and a new outfit. This year we were only able to provide them to about half our clients.”

Root said about 50 regular volunteers keep the organization running. “We could not survive without our volunteers. They are the heart and soul of the House of Mercy operations,” she said. “We also have many other volunteers who help on a onetime basis, or more sporadically. We always need more help!” To learn more about how to volunteer or donate, visit houseofmercyva.org.

The Good News Community Kitchen

The Good News Community Kitchen (TGNCK) is a 501(c)3 organization that provides hunger relief to veterans, students, senior citizens, survivors of domestic violence and families who identify being
food insecure and/or in need in the Northern Virginia and DC Metropolitan areas. The office is located at 308 Poplar Alley, Occoquan, and services are offered by appointment only.

“People in need, military servicing organizations or other community leaders contact our office letting us know of a need. We coordinate the pickup at our office. Our services are free,” said Mercedes N. Kirkland-Doyle, founder/executive director. “I love when my service members or mothers in transition get on their feet and then come back to help us help others. That warms my heart because I know my
underlying motive of paying it forward is working!”

Families are permitted emergency meal units twice a month. “But if I have the resources and supplies, and someone has a need for the third time…we’re helping them,” said Kirkland-Doyle. “Even if we
don’t have it, my amazing TGNCK family in PWC, NOVA, DC and other states comes together to respond to our needs via social media.”

According to Kirkland-Doyle, the most requested items are pinto beans, green beans, corn, vegetable soup, creamy peanut butter, saltines, and Chef Boyardee pastas. “We also prepare full-course ‘Sunday’
dinners that include a protein, vegetable, clean carb, water and a dessert,” she said. “I really wish I could offer natural juice and fresh vegetables. I have a lot of elderly clients with chronic illnesses, and I usually
buy them fresh vegetables out of my own pocket.”

TGNCK also provides workforce development through women’s empowerment sessions and interview
workshops. For more information on how to volunteer or donate, visit tgnck.org.

Marianne E. Weaver (mweaver@princewilliamliving.com) 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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