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Brisk Business at Church Food Pantry

Number of Families at Food Pantry Growing

The Rev. Rob Vaughn, pastor of Community of Faith United Methodist Church, has the perfect example to illustrate why his church took over operation of a FACETS (Fairfax Area Christian Emergency & Transitional Services) food pantry from a church across the street.

"One of our members is a single mother of high-school-aged boys. It's hard for them because she can't provide for them at the same level as their peers," Vaughn said. "Just the other day, she was saying how wonderful the pantry has been for them because she can come here and get food, then use the money to buy books and other things. It allows her to do things for her boys."

FACETS creator and executive director Linda Wimpey originally set-up the food pantry in her church, the Church of the Epiphany on Hidden Meadow Drive in Herndon, in the late 1980s. A couple years ago, the church began undergoing renovations and the Community of Faith United Methodist Church, across the street on Franklin Farm Road, agreed to take over its operation. The pantry has been there ever since.

"They have wonderful volunteers," Wimpey said.

The Community of Faith volunteers accept donations four days a week, with the Franklin Farm Giant being the largest supplier, and every Tuesday night open the pantry, free of charge, to the homeless and low-income families that need a little help feeding their families. Each pantry client is allowed to fill one bag per family member.

"We're always in need of canned goods and meats. Anything people can make a meal out of, even lunch meats or tuna fish. Ground beef is popular. We can do that [accept donations of meats] because we have a freezer," said Sue Bryan, a Reston volunteer. "Some nights the shelves are full when we start and by the end of the night, it's all gone."

Since taking over the pantry, the church has been averaging eight to 12 clients a week. But lately, it is not unusual to see as many as 30.

"In the last six months we have seen an increase of folks needing services," Vaughn said. "We don't turn people away."

Most of the food pantry clients are sent to the church through FACETS, but on occasion, church members will hear of a family that needs help and offer the pantry's services. Bryan said in some cases, the clients served by the pantry have jobs, however, they do not make enough to cover essential expenses such as groceries, health care and rent. By using the pantry, a family can devote money it would have spent on food for the other essentials.

"There are quite a few people willing to wait in line for food because there is no other way to feed their family," Bryan said.

ONE OF THE PANTRY'S benefactors is the Franklin Farm Giant, which has been providing food for several years. The grocery store provides foods whose shelf life is about to expire or is in damaged containers and by law cannot be sold, but is otherwise is still good. In most cases, if the food, such as breads, will not last until the Tuesday distribution, the church volunteers will take it to local homeless shelters.

"Recently, we got ice cream for the first time ever," Vaughn said. "That went pretty quick."

The pantry also receives donations from neighbors whose gardens are overflowing in the summer, and local Boy Scout and Girl Scout troops often hold canned food drives for the church.

In general, the church can accept almost anything because it has refrigerators and a freezer available for storage. Vaughn said, however, that baby items, such as diapers, are typically the most needed and least received. He said the volunteers in the church's daycare pick up the donations and other volunteers sort the week's haul.

"The Cub Scouts gathered 2,800 pounds of food just in the neighborhood recently," Vaughn said.

The pantry is meant to be a temporary solution and the clients are expected to work toward becoming self-sufficient. Vaughn said sometimes they see a client just a couple weeks, while other times a family could need help for as much as five months at a time.

"We encourage people to use the pantry if they need to," Vaughn said.

Bryan said she began volunteer at the pantry as a way to give back to the community, but now sees it as a part of her weekly routine.

"It has gotten to be a lot of fun," Bryan said. "There are some repeats and you get to know them. It's like a bunch of old friends getting together each week."