Having two food basket programs serving Loudoun may at first seem like a duplication of efforts.
Both the Community Holiday Coalition and LINK target families in need, providing them with food baskets, coats and toys during the holidays through makeshift stores housed at temporary sites. However, the county operates the Holiday Coalition to serve families across the county based on their income eligibility, while the 15 member churches of LINK serve families in Ashburn, Sterling and Herndon. LINK, an all-volunteer, non-profit organization, has a longer application timeline and accepts some families that may not be eligible for the Holiday Coalition’s program.
“To avoid duplication, we compare lists,” said Karen Velez, Holiday Store coordinator. “We try everything we can to not duplicate families.”
LINK ORGANIZED in 1972 to serve Fairfax and Loudoun counties equally with emergency food, utility and other needed assistance. LINK volunteers deliver food to residents of both counties on a year-round basis, providing 48 percent of the deliveries to Fairfax and 52 percent to Loudoun. In 2002, the volunteers delivered food to 703 families and provided financial assistance for 219 families, a part of the Christians Helping Neighbors program, LINK’s logo.
In 1985, LINK added the distribution of holiday food baskets after helping another organization the year prior, all through the work of volunteers.
“The volunteers of LINK believe in the power of selfless service,” said Mark Gunderman, board member and spokesperson for LINK. “This service includes commitment, compassion and the courage to service the sick, hurt, unemployed, unloved and powerless.”
Six hundred volunteers worked last year on the food basket program, helping collect and distribute 38,000 pounds of non-perishable food items, 3,000 toys and 140 coats to 629 families. This year, they are expected to help 800 families at Thanksgiving and Christmas.
“I’m just amazed at how dedicated they are,” said Linda Keefer, board member. “They make the time to attend the Link meetings, to deliver food, to pack food or to take phone calls. It shows they are caring, concerned people.”
LINK TYPICALLY distributes the holiday food baskets in a grocery store setting at member churches in Loudoun and Fairfax counties. This year, the Thanksgiving distributions of both food baskets and coats will be held at Christ the Redeemer Roman Catholic Church in Sterling. The Christmas distributions will include the food baskets at the same site, along with toy distributions at Herndon United Methodist Church. The food baskets will include a five-day supply of food and grocery store gift certificates for meat and other perishables for the traditional fixings of a holiday dinner.
“It’s nice to be able to give to people who otherwise wouldn’t have a nice meal,” Keefer said. “There are people out there who are in dire straights. … Some people don’t have the money, and something has to go.”
By providing food, LINK can allow families to free up some of their money for other needs. “If you have to cut back on anything, it can’t be food,” Keefer said. “Our goal is to get these people back on their feet.”
LINK runs food collections with the assistance of the member churches, schools and scouting groups. The food will be distributed on Nov. 22 for the Thanksgiving program and on Dec. 20 for the Christmas program.
THE COMMUNITY Holiday Coalition will distribute food from Nov. 18-20 and possibly Nov. 21 and again from Dec. 12-18 for both of the Thanksgiving and Christmas programs. The application deadline for the Thanksgiving program is Nov. 5 and for the Christmas program, Dec. 1, about two weeks earlier than Link’s deadline of Nov. 15 for Thanksgiving and Dec. 13 for Christmas.
The Holiday Coalition established the Neighbors Helping Neighbors program in 1996 to provide families with food baskets and other items that would help them meet their basic needs during the holidays. That year, the Holiday Coalition served 563 families, a number that nearly doubled by 2002 when the Coalition served 1,097 families with 120,000 pounds of food and 25,000 toys, gifts and household items.
So far this year, more than 750 families have signed up for the Thanksgiving program, many of whom also signed up for the Christmas program. The Holiday Coalition expects to help 1,200 families during Christmas and fewer during Thanksgiving, as is typical in previous years.
“It gives the people who are in need at the holiday period a chance to provide food for their families and gifts for their children,” said Susan-Jane Stack, chief of special projects for the Department of Social Services. “It gives the community as a whole an opportunity to work together to offer the joy of the holidays to people who are in need.”
At Thanksgiving time, families who qualify for the program will receive a food basket, coats and blankets, and at Christmas, the food baskets again, along with new clothing, toys and a filled stocking for children, and a laundry basket filled with household and personal care supplies for adults. The various items will be displayed department store style at the Holiday Store at Dulles 28 Centre in Sterling, allowing the recipients to select what they need.
“It’s heartwarming to see the whole community come together,” Velez said. “The volunteers are happy — this is my gift. And the recipients are saying their thank-you’s to us.”
About 300 people volunteered last year during the Thanksgiving program and nearly 1,000 during the Christmas program.
“It’s a very big program. It requires a lot of volunteers. Without them, we couldn’t survive,” Velez said.