Local Boy Scout troops will be dropping off grocery bags to area residents, this Saturday, in hopes that they'll fill them with canned goods. The Scouts will then return, Saturday, Nov. 16, to get the bags and bring them to the Western Fairfax Christian Ministries' (WFCM) food pantry.
And according to WFCM Executive Director Dorothy Fonow, the cupboard is pretty much bare and the need for food by local residents is greater than ever. So she hopes that, as in past food drives, citizens will come through and help their neighbors in their time of need.
"For the fiscal year ending June 30, we gave out 46 percent more food than in the previous year," she said. "People make 15-minute appointments to shop for food on the days the food pantry is open, and our appointments are booked three days in advance — especially Saturdays."
For fiscal year 2002, the WFCM provided 2,065 families with 10,283 bags of food valued at $30 each — for a whopping total of $308,490. That's nearly $100,000 more than in fiscal year 2001. It also gave direct, (nonfood) financial assistance to 337 households, equaling 1,050 individuals.
With more than 200 active volunteers and 26 churches, WFCM serves residents of Centreville, Chantilly, Clifton, Fair Oaks, Fair Lakes and Fairfax Station. And this nonprofit group receives more than 50 calls a day for help.
WFCM helps the area's needy with food, clothing and transportation to and from doctor's appointments. It gives financial aid — including money for rent, electricity and medical bills — to those in crisis situations. And its Kids in Crisis program also helps families in financial binds because of children who are seriously ill.
A huge amount of WFCM's calls are from residents needing help to pay their rent. "We're getting more people [in this category] than before," said Fonow. "It's been noticeable to our volunteers. In July, alone, we helped 20 people with their rent.
But the demand for food was WFCM's biggest increase in fiscal year 2002. "I think it's because of the economic need," said Fonow. "We let people come once a month to get food, so that allows them to stretch the rest of their money to pay for their other expenses. And the churches in the community are great. If I see we're getting low [on food and household supplies], I fax them and they respond immediately."
Trouble is, the demand for food is never-ending and keeps getting larger. Fonow attributes it to "unemployment, family emergencies and sicknesses, lack of availability of work and the low level at which people are paid." She also said there's not enough affordable housing here, and many people don't make enough money to pay for what is available. "And it's going to be a continuing problem here," she said.
Food demands especially jumped in the summer, when children were home from school and not receiving free or reduced lunches at school. In July 2001, WFCM provided food for 130 families; in July 2002, 193 families received food from WFCM.
The other summer months saw even higher demand, this year. In June, WFCM gave 917 bags of food to 196 families; in August, 900 bags of food went to 224 families; and in September, 807 bags of food went to 216 families. That's why the upcoming Boy Scout food drive for WFCM is so crucial.
"We have no backup — just what's on the shelves now," said Fonow. "Our reserves have been empty since early summer."
Especially needed are nonperishable items — predominantly canned goods such as canned pastas (spaghetti, ravioli, etc.), tuna, meats, stews, chunky-type soups, chicken-noodle soup, fruit, beans (pinto, kidney, green, garbanzo, baked beans, pork and beans, etc.), peanut butter, jelly and spaghetti. Please, NO glass jars.
"This is to stock up our barn so we're as ready as possible [to meet the demand]," said Fonow. "The need is growing in the community, and indications are that it's going to be even more of an increase than last year. The Boy Scout food we get traditionally lasts until July, but now it's running out by the beginning of May."
The majority of those needing food, she said, are blue-collar workers, people who are unemployed or disabled and those with medical emergencies or long-term illnesses. Others also dependent on this food are senior citizens and people on fixed incomes. Said Fonow: "In fiscal year 2002, we helped 34 people who were 55 or older and 59 people who were disabled."
She appreciates everyone who helped with and contributed to past WFCM food drives. Also acknowledging the hard work of the Boy Scouts, she says what they collect comprises "the lion's share of what we give out in nonperishables, over the year. People come to us in dire straits, and it is a very vital service we provide, so we count on the continued generosity of the community here."