By Nancy Taylor
In spite of the fact that the area we live in is considered to be one of the richest in the Nation, we have poverty and hunger in our midst. A huge number of kids are at risk in our neighboring communities. Washington, DC identifies 50% of its kids as having inadequate nutrition, Montgomery County estimates 20%, and Northern Virginia, 18%. That’s a lot of kids, and the communities where these children live are eager to help out. Among the most heartwarming of volunteers are school kids. Many local schools have programs in place where students are given an opportunity to make sandwiches; sponsor food drives, and participate in fundraisers like walk-a-thons to help the hungry in the neighborhoods they live in. And a number of individual schools have gone out of their way to make a difference in creative and noteworthy ways.
Northern Virginia Friends School makes lunches for the Falls Church Center, a 12-bed facility for the homeless that is open during the winter months. They have recently added a community in Hazard, Kentucky, to their repertoire. Blankets and clothing were donated to the community last October, and students at the school exchange letters and postcards with children in the community there. Free haircuts are provided in September to coincide with the start of a school year, and an exchange program is in place for the spring.
Rockville High School sponsored the ‘Empty Bowls’ benefit last spring. Students spent hours making 200 bowls that were given to attendees of the benefit; the $20 meal consisted of soup and bread donated by local merchants. Gift baskets, fine art and gift certificates were donated and used for the silent auction held during the evening. Profits were donated to the Capital Area Food Bank. Students were pleased and proud of the successful evening and of their ability to make a difference in their community.
Many area private schools, as part of their community service requirement, send their students to Food for Others to volunteer. Several Fairfax County Middle and High Schools sponsored ‘mini-walks’ to raise money for the organization, and food drives are a big source of contributions. Area elementary schools make sandwiches once a month that are then dropped off at the warehouse and donated to local schoolchildren. 29 area public and private schools made a difference for Food for Others last year. Scout troops and churches provide much of the food they receive. The UDSA Beltsville Agricultural Research Center in Beltsville, MD donates its entire crop to Food for Others. Volunteer groups; scouts, schools, churches and families, are given an opportunity to go to the farm to help harvest the crops. The food is then sent to the Food for Others warehouse in Fairfax, VA.
As the cost of living in the Metropolitan area increases, more and more families are finding it difficult to meet the basic needs of their families. Single parents, the mentally ill, the elderly and the working poor make up a larger percentage of the population that we would like to think. It is wonderful to see so many young people making a difference in their communities. If your child’s school has a program in place to help the less fortunate, encourage them to participate. If it doesn’t, encourage your PTA to start one. You will be glad you did!
Looking for ways your family can help? Volunteers provide much of the food and sweat equity necessary to keep these programs up and running. Below are some of the organizations in your area where you and your family can volunteer. No donation is too small; no effort you make is insignificant.
Food for Others
One of the largest food banks in Northern Virginia is Food for Others, in Fairfax, VA. This small, non-profit organization was founded in part by Fairfax and Arlington County governments. Foundations, churches and individuals provide the rest of the funding necessary to keep the organization going financially. But financial needs are only the beginning. A small but dedicated staff and over 600 volunteers keep this organization up and running. Food for Others distributes 1.8 million pounds of food each year!
For information about how you can help, visit their website atwww.foodforothers.org .
Arlington Food Assistance Center
Arlington Food Assistance Center is a non-profit organization dedicated to serving the Arlington community with groceries for its residents. AFAC delivers 900 bags of groceries to over 500 families each week; half of the people they care for are children. This translates into over 950,000 pounds of food. Arlington Food Assistance Center is run by a volunteer board of directors, 10 permanent staff members and over 400 volunteers from the community and area churches. As a result administrative costs are kept very low, and together with generous food and cash donations, the business of caring for the hungry is well attended to.
To volunteer for the program, sponsor a food drive, or to make a donation, check out their website atwww.afacinfo.org .
Manna Food Center
Montgomery County’s only food Bank, Manna Food Center distributes more than 2 million pounds of food annually. Manna distributes food based solely on need, and donates food to area group homes, homeless shelters and soup kitchens. Volunteers are always needed and community assistance is gratefully accepted. Last year, 48 Elementary, Middle and High Schools, as well as scout troops and soccer families donated 51,317 pounds of food to the food bank. For more information, visit the website atwww.mannafood.org
Capital Area Food Bank
The Capital Area Food Bank is the largest public non-profit hunger assistance organization in the Washington, DC area. Each year, CAFB donates more than 20 million pounds of food to food pantries, day care centers, senior centers, faith-based centers and rehabilitation centers throughout Washington, DC. The Capital Area Food Bank accepts cash and food donations, as well as needing volunteers. For more information, check out their webpage atwww.capitalareafoodbank.org.