When Sterling resident Roberta Bruckschen is in LINK’s food pantry stocking the shelves, she wants to stay there.
“It’s addicting. You get [in] there and you just can’t quit,” said Bruckschen, a LINK volunteer in the early 1970s who returned to the nonprofit, all-volunteer organization three years ago. “I had a lot of time to get involved with them.”
Bruckschen, who now is retired, serves as the food pantry coordinator year-round, putting in an average of two to three hours a day until the holiday season, when she works about eight hours a day.
“She’s open to helping people out. It doesn’t matter if it’s night or day or the weekend. She just cares about other people,” said Herndon resident Carol Lavery, vice president of LINK and a volunteer for the organization for the past 10 years. “For the small things, we know we can call her. We know she’ll find somebody.”
Bruckschen makes sure the pantry is staffed with volunteers — two people to rotate answering the phones every two weeks and four people to load up boxes of food for delivering to needy families in Ashburn, Sterling and Herndon 52 weeks a year. She finds at least one person to pick up food from the Sterling Park Safeway four days a week to deliver to the pantry, the homeless shelters in Loudoun and Fairfax counties and a subsidized housing unit in Sterling Park.
“It’s good there are organizations out there that can help. We help a lot of people hit by 9/11 and the layoffs at AOL [America Online, Inc.] and WorldCom [Inc.],” Bruckschen said.
LINK DELIVERED food to 582 families so far this year, including 982 adults and 1,257 children, and gave out $11,440 worth of grocery-store gift certificates. LINK delivers food to an average of 200 people a month, said Mark Gunderman, LINK spokesperson.
“Some of the families we help … to loosen up some of their money to pay bills and buy medicines,” Bruckschen said.
LINK’s 15 member churches take turns each month collecting and delivering food to the needy. One of the churches is the one Bruckschen has attended since the early 1970s, Christ the Redeemer in Sterling.
Before LINK organized in 1972, Christ the Redeemer fixed food baskets for the needy, sometimes overlapping the work of other churches by delivering to the same families. LINK formed in 1972 when five churches decided to coordinate their efforts and avoid the double deliveries.
“Lots of churches did it, that’s why we started working together,” Bruckschen said.
After LINK formed, Bruckschen volunteered with the organization for four to six years, helping collect and deliver the food that had to be stored in the homes of LINK volunteers until about 10 years ago.
“I see Roberta as one of the leaders in the LINK organization,” Gunderman said. “She’s a great mentor to people who are starting to volunteer. She has a lot of community program insight. She knows the Sterling community very well.”
BRUCKSCHEN STOPPED volunteering in the mid- to late 1970s for personal reasons, then returned to the organization in 1999. “I felt the need was out there,” she said. “I like the feeling, the gratification, what it is to help people who need the help. … I guess you can appreciate life more knowing you’re able to help others.”
Each year, Bruckschen’s volunteer workload increases during the holidays. She sends letters to schools asking for support for the holiday food baskets given to needy families, then arranges dates to pick up the food the schools collect. This year, she started answering the phone lines to help those seeking to receive the food baskets during the Thanksgiving Holiday Basket program, which was held last Saturday at Christ Redeemer Church and Trinity Presbyterian Church in Herndon.
That day, Bruckschen greeted people at the door as they entered Christ Redeemer Church, where they selected food for their families at the makeshift mini-supermarket inside the church. She checked their identification and basket numbers and made sure they had a shopping escort.
“It’s a good feeling when you can see the results of what you’ve done,” Bruckschen said.
Community volunteer Ed Linek calls Bruckschen "a gold mine in Sterling." "Her efforts with LINK and other organizations have helped many people in this community," said Linek, a Sterling resident. "She is a quiet lovable individual that does her charity work without a big fanfare. She's one person everyone should be proud [lives] in this area."
BRUCKSCHEN is an active member of the Ladies Auxiliary to the Veterans of Foreign Wars, where she has served as treasurer and secretary for the past 10 years. She also is a member of the Sterling Ruritan Club.
Almost nine years ago, Bruckschen retired from an 18-year career at Giant Food Inc. to take care of her grandchildren. She and her husband Hugh Bruckschen, a retired printer from the American Newspapers Association who also volunteers, have three children and four grandchildren. They will have been married 47 years Dec. 1.
“We help each other out when we get these volunteer jobs … if we get overextended,” Bruckschen said.