Dr. Mike Couchman, Ph.D., and his wife Kate, both 37, of Burke started the web-based food bank “FeedAFamily” in 2013 while he was working for the U.S. Air Force in Northern California. He worked as a pilot and she was an interior designer.
“We started it in Northern California outside of Sacramento. We started looking for a place to participate in a pantry or food drive. We lived in a smaller town with one food pantry in town. At the time our boys were small, ages 3, 4, 5, and we went to their facility and saw they had limited operating hours. And the volunteer hours were restricted because of that. It was inconvenient to us … So, we thought maybe we could create something,” said Kate.
A military move sent the family to Burke where they had to rebuild their 501-c-3 charity practically from scratch. In five short years, the online effort has grown to support families in 42 states. Their three boys have since grown a little -- Adam, is now 12; Jacob, 9; and Owen, 8.
Instead of using a brick-and-mortar location, they operate the 100 percent online website www.Feed-A-Family.org. All the money donated goes towards the order, purchase and home delivery of food to families. The multi-tiered program works directly with families, offering healthy and fresh food choices. It encourages people to donate to a registry of families in need of food online. Once they are matched, they purchase the food online and have it delivered through local grocers like Peapod, Safeway, Food Lion, Instacart Grocery Delivery or AmazonFresh.
LOCAL BUSINESSES have also contributed to the cause, including: Burke Giant, Burke Safeway, Costco, One Life Fitness in Burke and Wegmans in Fairfax.
People in need can go to the website, sign up and get assistance. The goal for 2019 is to provide at least 800 families with 16,000 days of food across the nation. For many people who live in rural areas, it’s the only charitable option they have.
Said Mike: “We work with Virginia 2-1-1 and other counselors; pretty much anyone who provides free counseling for finances or family counselors, schools, churches, and they refer them to us and they fill out the application. They go to the website, fill out an application and we contact them.”
Kate added: “Families in need can sign up on the website for assistance. We get donations by having different fundraisers. We use the money to shop online. We’re trying to take advantage of Instacart. There’s been a boom in the industry turning to online shopping, like AmazonFresh, where they have groceries delivered to you. Instead of stockpiling warehouses with food. I can take money and buy fresh groceries and have it delivered to their doorstep. We bring the food right to them.”
From the time since they started in 2013, they’ve reached out close to 800 families or about 3,200 people in total, said Mike. “We keep the families for three months, short-term; we give them a week’s worth of food for a family of four once a month. We have helped more than 300 families in the past 90 days. The majority of our families are in Virginia, Maryland and D.C, because we started here. But we are beginning to branch out and the word is starting to spread,” he said. Families are welcome to come back and reapply. And yes, they have repeats.
“Different food pantries are limited with fruits and vegetables, milk, and meat. They do a lot with processed and shelf and staple stuff. We really strive to provide fresh food; we want people to be healthy. We send produce, milk, eggs, meats and nutritious things,” added Kate
Mike said the food gets delivered right to the door – six or seven bags of groceries worth about $70 per order of fresh groceries; they can select what they want to eat. FeedAFamily relies on volunteers and a staff of three full-time people -- Sherry Cote is their secretary/treasurer.
Kate added: “On the online form, it asks do you have any food requests, or allergies, or are you lactose intolerant, or on special diets. We take that into consideration. We try to get the same basic items for everyone.”
“We are placing an online order and having it sent to the person in need. We do not do any of the shipping. All the money goes directly to the food. We have almost no overhead,” she added.
Why do they do it? “I think it makes us feel like we’re giving back to a bigger cause in helping people,” said Mike. “We’re more of the mindset if you need help, we’re going to try and provide help.”
Kate added: “We’re a safety net for a lot of people ... Just hearing their stories and how grateful they are to get help from somebody, it’s not something we could ignore. We know how many people out there need it. We’ve been on many phone calls with people who were so grateful and it means the world to them.”
She added: “Our goal is to help those people who are trying to get back on their feet, not necessarily someone in a long-term situation, but somebody who’s maybe sick or lost their job or just needs a little boost to make it through.”
ON DEC. 1, 2018, at 8 p.m., the Couchmans will be having their second-annual “Second Chance Prom” fundraising gala at the Accotink Academy, 8519 Tuttle Road, Springfield. There will be a silent auction, deejay, dessert bar, and open bar. To contact the Couchmans, email: FeedAFamily1@gmail.com.