Firefighters 2 the Rescue founder Capt. Willie Bailey clowns around with Marsha Gallagher, who volunteers her time for the annual holiday drive.
Photo by John Bordner
’Tis the season of giving: of gifts, of parties and of thanks. But what should be a time of hope and happiness too often can be a time of despair for Alexandria’s vulnerable and low income families.
“Many people don’t realize just how great the need is right here in Alexandria,” said longtime resident Hazel Rigby. “Thankfully, there are people like Keith Burns and Willie Bailey who are working hard to help families and children in need, not just during the holidays but throughout the year.”
Burns and Bailey, both native sons of the city, teamed up to distribute more than 75 Thanksgiving turkeys and complete meals Nov. 22 at the Charles Houston Recreation Center.
“We came together to make sure as many Alexandria residents as possible would have a nice Thanksgiving meal,” said Bailey, founder of the nonprofit Firefighters 2 the Rescue. “Also, we wanted to provide a new coat and shoes to those that needed them.”
In addition to the Thanksgiving dinners, Bailey and a team of volunteers from the Alexandria fire, sheriff and police departments distributed more than 350 new coats and 200 pairs of shoes to local children and adults in need.
“Keith has never forgotten where he came from,” said Rigby of the 1990 T.C. Williams graduate and two-time Super Bowl champion. “He and his family have done so much to give back to this community. In joining forces with Willie, they are making even more of a difference in the lives of so many families.”
Other local organizations like the Salvation Army raise funds to provide basic services to those in need throughout the city.
“Donations received during the Red Kettle Campaign make a huge difference in the lives of many,” said Alexandria Salvation Army board Chairman Walter Clarke. “It does not matter how small or large your donation — it is greatly appreciated.”
This year’s campaign officially kicked off Nov. 7 and will run citywide through Dec. 24 with a special Christmas Eve kettle set up at Market Square. Every dollar received in an Alexandria kettle remains in the community to support local programs and services.
Citing a 15 percent increase in need for services, the Salvation Army is asking donors to consider additional giving when contributing to this year’s Red Kettle campaign.
“I encourage everyone to consider additional giving this year to help us respond to the increase in need in our community,” Clarke said. “Your donation will support services including the Emergency Disaster Services mobilizing canteens, which feed and hydrate first responders and survivors during disasters, and many other programs which are all made possible because of your generous donations.”
For most charities, 50 percent of donations are made between Thanksgiving and Christmas but not every household always has funds to contribute. In lieu of a financial donation, the gift of time and service is just as valuable.
Neighborhood churches and religious organizations give out turkeys or serve meals on Thanksgiving. Christ House, Christ Church and Meade Memorial all provide meal programs and can use volunteers this time of year.
For more traditional giving, ACT for Alexandria is a community philanthropic foundation that acts as an umbrella organization for more than 100 Alexandria agencies.
“If someone is thinking about giving but not sure where to give, I’d love for them to give me a call,” said ACT executive director John Porter. “Part of what we do is connect people to causes which are of interest to them but they may not have the knowledge to understand where the need is in the community.”
In addition to supporting immediate causes, ACT established the ACT NOW Fund for future needs or when a crisis develops during the year.
“Individuals interested in charitable giving sometimes donate to a national organization when they can give to that same cause locally,” Porter said. “But when they give back to the community they directly see the benefit of their involvement.”
Other sponsors of the Charles Houston Thanksgiving dinner event included Operation Warm, Braddock Metro Civic Association, ACT for Alexandria, Volunteer Alexandria, 7-Eleven Corporation, Columbia Gardens Cemetery, Bennie & Dina Evans, Progressive Firefighters Inc., Charles Houston Advisory Council and FOCUS North America.
“I can’t thank our sponsors enough,” Bailey said. “It’s wonderful to see public safety personnel come together with businesses and other community organizations to help Alexandria residents during the holidays.”