This year, more than 100,000 families in Fairfax County are predicted to experience food insecurity as a result of COVID-19. At Food for Others, we saw the demand for food quadruple – almost overnight—back in March when schools and workplaces closed unexpectedly.
To help us respond to the new need for food in the community, the Community Action Advisory Board of Fairfax County voted unanimously to grant FFO some of the federal relief funding that the county received as part of the CARES (Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security) Act.
We are using the funds to drastically increase the amount of food we’re providing to families over the next 18 months by adding six new Community Partners and nine new mobile pantry sites. These expanded programs will also be crucial in helping families affected by COVID-19 get back on their feet after the pandemic has ended.
With the funding, we have added a second Food for Others warehouse space across the street for additional food storage and we’ve constructed a second walk-in refrigerator for perishable CARES foods like milk, eggs, and fresh produce. We’ve also brought on two new full-time staff members to work on the expansion. Dustin Lape, the Program Manager, is getting the program up and running and overseeing the new Community Partner and mobile site distributions. The other new staff member, Patrick Silas, has joined our warehouse staff and will be delivering food to our CARES mobile sites in FFO’s truck.
FFO is providing our six new CARES Community Partners with large quantities of food like frozen meat, fresh produce, rice, milk, eggs, canned soups and other nonperishables for the families they serve. The new partners include Vienna Presbyterian Church, First AME Church, City Light, Salvation Army, FACETS, and She Believes in Me and their distributions will feed a combined total of 1,290 families in need each month.
Some of our new partners, like She Believes in Me, had never provided food services before but had to add the distributions when COVID-19 left their clients unable to obtain food.
“Normally we serve young girls, providing emotional support and teaching life skills,” said Renee Gorman, the Founder and President of She Believes in Me. “When COVID hit, we saw that we would have to help these girls meet basic needs – food for their families. The food is a God-send for these families; it’s one less stressor for them, after losing their jobs or having their paychecks cut.”
She Believes in Me received their first order of food and conducted their first distribution on Saturday. 160 families were able to pick up food at their location in Herndon.
“They were thrilled to get the fresh fruits and vegetables because at other pantries sometimes those items aren’t available,” Gorman added. “Faces lit up to see the nutritious, wholesome food. We all left [our first distribution] feeling thrilled with what we did for the community.”
In addition to the new Community Partners, FFO will use CARES funding to reach thousands more families in high-poverty areas by expanding our mobile food pantry program to include nine mobile sites. We know that getting to our Merrifield warehouse during operating hours can be a huge obstacle for a lot of families in need of food, and we’ve been working towards having a mobile food pantry for a long time.
In February, we piloted a mobile pantry at Annandale United Methodist Church and have been providing emergency food to families at that site every Tuesday evening.
From the pilot, we learned that to expand this program as much as we plan to, we would need to create an online system to communicate with the social workers referring clients, the clients picking up food, and the volunteers and warehouse staff packaging the food.
We’ve begun a technology upgrade and created an online referral system that we will use at our mobile sites. With this new system, social workers will login to fill out an online referral form on behalf of their clients. Then, the client will receive a text or email with a link that allows them to select a convenient pick-up location, time, and customize their food preferences. Then, Patrick will deliver the tailor made food boxes to the mobile site.
This new system allows for social distancing, contactless food pick up, and makes obtaining food easy for families who can’t make it to FFO because of schedule conflicts or lack of transportation. Through these new mobile sites, FFO will be able to feed an additional 450 families every month.
FFO is grateful to every donor and volunteer who has made the new mobile project a reality and to Fairfax County for supporting us with CARES funding.