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LINK Connects Needy with Thanksgiving Baskets

Sterling resident Dianne Bennett's three children will not see a difference in their Thanksgiving, thanks to LINK's Holiday Basket program.

Bennett's circumstances changed following a job loss and a separation. In December 2001, she was laid off from AVR Enterprises Inc. in Herndon, where she worked as an information technology account executive, then a month later, she and her husband separated. She now is working in marketing, a job she took with a $40,000 pay cut.

"I wouldn't have gone out and purchased all this," Bennett said, pointing to the cans and boxes of food stacked on tables in the Christ the Redeemer Catholic Church Saturday. "My finances are way, way down. ... This is a really big help for me. It helps financially."

LINK estimated registering more than 1,400 Sterling, Ashburn and Herndon residents for the Thanksgiving Holiday Basket program. LINK provided the residents with a five-days supply of food and grocery store gift certificates for meat and other perishables — about $5,000 in the gift certificates. The number of families registered this year was 360, compared to 260 families last year — a total of 1,000 residents.

LINK DIVIDED the distributions at two sites, Christ the Redeemer in Sterling and Trinity Presbyterian Church in Herndon. The distributions are usually held in one of LINK's 15-member churches.

“The increase is based on the economy,” said Mark Gunderman, spokesperson for LINK, an all-volunteer, nonprofit organization in operation since 1972. “The current economic disruptions and the slow recovery of the job market is why we believe we’re getting more people.”

Saul Canas of Sterling came out with his wife Norma and their 6-year-old daughter Arianna, so they could have enough food for a family get-together on Thanksgiving day. "I'm the only one that works in the family," said Saul Canas, father of three children and a dispatcher for a broad band company. "I think it helps a lot of people, like low-income families that can't afford to buy food that day. ... My whole family gets together for dinner. It's going to help us to cook that day."

Saul Canas talked as he wheeled a shopping cart past rows of tables set up at Christ the Redeemer like a mini-supermarket. With the assistance of volunteers, the Canas and other families selected canned food, pastas, fruits, breads and other food items.

“I believe in doing direct charity work,” said Robert Duchesneau of Sterling, a LINK volunteer for the past 10 years. “We get food right to those who need it.”

THE FOOD came from donations, including 30,000 pounds from school food drives and 22,000 pounds from the Boy Scouts’ annual Scouting for Food Drive. LINK volunteers picked up and delivered the food to the two churches, sorted the different items onto the tables and, on Saturday, restocked the items as needed and helped load family vehicles.

“We see the need in our neighborhood and try to do something about it,” said Sterling resident Gerhard Krohn, treasurer and a LINK member since 1973. “It should be everyone’s moral obligation to help those who are less able to help themselves and need a helping hand to get back on top of things.”

Krohn was one of 400 volunteers who helped out with the event, compared to 200 volunteers last year. The volunteers were from LINK’s member churches, along with schools, civic organizations and Boy Scout and Girl Scout troops from Loudoun and Fairfax counties. Each year, the member churches rotate responsibility for housing the mini-supermarkets.

“When we reach out and help people, we don’t know that in fact we help ourselves,” Gunderman said. “Why is that? We are all interconnected. We are all a family. And that’s the truth.”

THE CHRISTMAS Holiday Basket Program is scheduled from 9 a.m.-2 p.m., Dec. 21, at the same church sites. Each church can handle a maximum of 800 people for food distributions.

LINK makes home food deliveries year-round Mondays through Saturdays and provides financial assistance to needy individuals and families. LINK’s member churches are from Sterling, Ashburn and Herndon.