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WFCM Gets New Name; Aug. 3 Launch Set

Upscale thrift shop attracts customers, raises funds.

It'll still be under the auspices of Western Fairfax Christian Ministries but, as of next week, WFCM will be known as Ways & Means Homelessness Prevention.

"It had to be renamed because it didn't say what we do — that we have the ways and means of preventing people from losing their homes," said Monica Hebert, the organization's director of development. "Most people [out of the area] thought WFCM was either a church or a radio station."

IN 1987, about 12 local churches started getting calls for help, but weren't equipped to provide it on the scale needed. So they banded together to form WFCM, which now includes more than 20 churches.

In the beginning, said Hebert, less than 10 families a month requested help. Now, 3,000 calls a month pour in asking for aid. So, she said, "We're serving about 1,200 families a month with food and other services, such as financial assistance, and that figure has grown annually by 37 percent."

The increased demand has put a strain on WFCM's resources, so the name change is seen as a way of clarifying this nonprofit group's mission and thereby attracting more donations. And next Thursday, Aug. 3, from 11 a.m.-2 p.m., will be the official launch of the new name, outside WFCM's office at 13981 Metrotech Drive in Chantilly.

It's next to Midas Muffler in the Sully Place Shopping Center, and the public is invited for raffles, refreshments and an open house of WFCM's newly refurbished thrift shop. Raffle items include an autographed basketball from GMU's Final Four team and an 8-foot pool table. The new Web site, waysmeans.org, also begins that day.

To meet the community's additional needs, the organization added three staff members, plus high-end merchandise to its thrift shop, which is open to the public. The upscale clothing, explained Hebert, is "a way of making more money so we can continue to serve our neighbors in need."

Nothing costs more than $15, yet customers may purchase items such as Versacci and Gucci dresses, Evelyn Picone suits and Coach handbags. And, said Hebert, "Those things are flying off the shelves. We shut down the thrift shop/clothes closet one day in July and rebuilt and refurbished it. And when we reopened it July 9, it did in one day the amount of business it used to take a week to do."

That's exciting, she said, because the revenue goes toward the ministry's general operating expenses. And she believes it's a direct result of the gasoline price hikes. "Professional, career women trying to stretch their incomes can come in here and buy a beautiful suit, maybe worn only once, and look sharp for their jobs," said Hebert.

However, she noted that first priority is stocking the clothes closet so it's always full. There, people in need are served with dignity, getting to pick out clothes in private.

"For example, women who've left abusive situations can't go back to their homes for clothing and household goods," said Hebert. "A woman with several young children came in recently and we set her up with household items — pots, pans, furniture, dishes, vacuum cleaner — and gently used clothes. One of the children was so hungry, we fed him on the spot, and we also sent her home with groceries. We give $1.5 million each year worth of free food from the food pantry."

SHE ALSO praised the group's 300 volunteers who work steadily each work at the food pantry and thrift shop. They sort clothes, stock shelves and assist customers and people in need.

Hebert said they're dedicated because they believe in the organization's mission to provide emergency assistance for local residents. "A lot of families are struggling on mom-and-pop incomes and not quite making it," she explained. "So they need money to help with, for instance, the mortgage, rent, utilities and prescriptions."

She said a couple things are fueling the increased demand for food and clothing. "Fairfax County lost the budget subsidy for child care, and that will hit our families hard," said Hebert. "So moms will have to cut back their hours at work to take care of their children — meaning less income — so they'll need to come here for help."

In addition, she said, "Many people over-extended themselves when the housing market was in a frenzy last year. So they're in a house they can't afford now, but they can't afford to lose. So we help them keep things together and give them financial counseling, as well."

And sometimes, the recipients return the favor when their circumstances improve. Hebert said a lawyer who was a single dad had to alter his living style and reduce his expenses after his child was diagnosed with cancer. "He wanted to stay home more with his child, but his medical insurance didn't cover enough of his expenses," she said. "So he got a different job, but still needed to come here for help."

WFCM gave him clothing for all of his children, plus backpacks and school supplies. He's since returned to the legal profession and, recently, donated some clothing to the organization. Said Hebert: "He wanted to give back to others because we helped him when he needed it."

She said it shows that "our neighbors in need could be anybody. It's not about ethnicity or laziness; it's about people facing hard times, doing the best they can — and still not having enough resources [to make ends meet]."

Making things worse, said Hebert, is the cost of housing here. "The lack of affordable homes is atrocious," she said. "While we're the third-richest county in the U.S., we depend on the goods and services of the people who can't afford to live here. How can that be right?"

To donate goods or services, call 703-988-9656, ext. 107; to volunteer, ext. 105. Tax-deductible contribution payable to WFCM may be sent to: WFCM, 13981 Metrotech Drive, Chantilly, VA 20151.