For almost 20 years, Western Fairfax Christian Ministries has provided emergency financial assistance, food and other aid to needy families in Fairfax County.
Now, the group is offering opportunities to go golfing with Supervisor Michael Frey (R-Sulley), attend a wine tasting party for 14 people or have dinner with Fairfax County Board of Supervisors Chairman Gerry Connolly (D-At-large) — if the price is right.
"We are in the middle of our first online auction," said Monica Hebert, director of development for WFCM. The auction, which closes on Saturday, April 22, at 6 p.m., has over 140 items up for bid on their Web site, www.wfcm.org.
During the annual President's Dinner on Sunday, April 23, a silent and live auction will also take place, Hebert said.
"We've got a hot air balloon ride over the Shenandoah Valley, two tickets on Southwest Airlines, a baseball autographed by the Washington Nationals," she said. "You can even get a handyman who will come to your house and fix things. We've got everything."
The money from the auction will go into WFCM's general fund, to allow the organization to continue providing emergency relief services, she said.
Living in an affluent community makes it difficult for some people to believe that homelessness or poverty is a local problem, Hebert said.
"It is because of our affluence that we have families getting squeezed out because they can't afford to live here," she said.
Hebert has a photograph in her office of a man who lives in a makeshift shelter under an 18-wheeler truck trailer.
"The people we're helping are all working, they're just not making enough" to support themselves, Hebert explained.
In addition to providing one-time assistance on utility or rent payments, WFCM operates a food pantry, said Jo-Ann Duggan, director of emergency services.
"We allow our clients to shop for food like they would in a grocery store, which is a little different from other pantries," Duggan said. "We also have a thrift store that is open to everyone, but we provide clothing to people in need for free."
FOR FAMILIES that need long-term help becoming self-sufficient, Duggan said WFCM offers "residential assistance," which includes budget counseling, job training and other forms of guidance to help then get back on their feet.
On a typical day, WFCM receives more than 20 calls for assistance, she said, ranging from people who are "one step away from being evicted or having their power cut off" to those who need more assistance.
"We feed about 55 families every week," she said, and those numbers have been increasing in the past few years.
"There are so many people who are struggling on a daily basis. It's really difficult, even for people who make enough, to live here because of the cost of transportation on top of rent," Duggan said.
But with the support of more than 30 churches in the western part of the county, Duggan said WFCM will continue to "serve the community" that needs it.
WFCM has also 'adopted' the Shadd Elementary School in Washington, D.C., sending volunteers there once a week to read to children, said executive director Dorothy Fonow.
"For the past two years, we have partnered with the Fannie Mae Foundation to help this school," she said. "When we went to meet with the principal to see how we could help, he didn't ask for school supplies or computers. He wanted people to read to his students."
Fonow said the principal wanted his students to "fall in love with reading," and with the help of some volunteers, she hopes they've been successful.
The more volunteers available, she said, the more people they could help. On average, WFCM has about 300 volunteers each month.
"Our volunteers are wonderful. Some delivered furniture to people who were refugees from Hurricane Katrina last year," Fonow said.
Next year will mark WFCM's 20th anniversary, and Fonow hopes to see the fundamental programs expand, as needed, in the future.
"This auction and the partnership with Fannie Mae is the beginning of the push towards that," she said. "We want to increase our presence in the community. A lot of people don't even know we exist."