“Customers are comin’.” Corporal Mike Lennon urges the cars to move forward in the Westover Baptist Church parking lot on August 11. As the cars keep streaming in, “We’ve got to get ’em up here so there isn’t a backup onto Washington Blvd.”
Anne Smith opens the trunk of her shiny Acura. “It is loaded with plastic bags full of “everything I could find; if I would eat it, I bought it.” It took both Sgt. Tom Rakowski and Detective Shawn Blow of the Arlington County Police Department to unload the bags for Arlington Food Assistance Center (AFAC) and carry them to the police pick-up truck. Drivers call out the window, “Thanks for what you're doing.”
The police held a “Fill the Cruiser” food donation event at three locations including the Westover Baptist Church Parking lot at Patrick Henry, the Giant on S. Glebe and Courthouse headquarters from 6-8 p.m. on Tuesday evening to restock the AFAC food supplies.
Charles Meng, Executive Director and CEO of AFAC, says, “When the pandemic started in mid-March, food donations dropped to almost nothing — the grocery stores were dealing with folks stocking up and individuals were holding food.
“But,” he continues, “Individual donations quickly picked up when folks found out we needed help, and as the grocery stores have restocked, they have returned to donating food to us.” Meng says they are almost back to normal but the number of families served is up so the need is great. The number of families served in July averaged 2,283 each week. This number includes some families who come more than once each week. This translates into 3,198 families who come at least once during a month including 5,743 individuals.
Only 15 minutes have passed. The police pick-up truck is already getting full. “Oh wow, wow; give me a hand over here.” Colonel Beth Lennon says, “Is your cruiser empty? Pull it over here.” They discuss what to do when the cruiser is full, too.
Some people pop open the car trunk to deliver their contributions contact free while others, with or without masks, roll down a car window to hand over their purchases. “People seem to be looking for the opportunity to give.” Two cases of Healthy Choice chicken with rice soup get stacked beside ten boxes of Crispy Oats and a bag of rice. One man pulls up in his metallic red Ford and walks around to open his trunk full of cans wedged in between his fishing gear. He jokes he needs it handy at all times.
AFAC had requested high priority items including low sugar cereals, tuna and low salt vegetables and beans. AFAC is a non-profit organization that serves low-income families in Arlington by providing supplemental groceries.
When the evening was over, ACPD had collected 6,509 pounds of food at the three locations.