In case anyone wonders why so many food drives are needed in a county so ostensibly wealthy as Fairfax, Britepaths Programs Director Chris Garris has a brief, but poignant, story in response.
“We received a thank-you card recently from a single mom with two children, and the children wrote notes in it, telling why they were thankful for our food program,” she said. “One child wrote, ‘My mommy was able to buy me milk.’ That really struck a chord with us, and just thinking about it is heartbreaking.”
So Garris was especially pleased that the Walmart in Fairfax City agreed to host a Stuff the Bus event for Britepaths, on Saturday, Feb. 8. It enabled the nonprofit to restock its food pantry to help local families in need, as well as provide them with grocery-store gift cards to purchase their own items.
“It was great to be in a grocery store that supports the food program’s needs by letting us ask for those things here,” said Garris. And by the end of the five-hour event, 688.5 pounds of food and toiletry/hygiene items – valued at $1,183 – had been donated by the community, plus cash and gift cards totaling $851.
From 11 a.m.-4 p.m., various volunteers greeted Walmart customers and passed out fliers asking for donations of food or money. Everything collected was then stuffed into a Fastran bus parked outside the store and brought to the organization’s pantry.
THE DAY was chilly, but that didn’t stop several groups from coming to Walmart to help make the effort a success. They included police officers from the Fair Oaks District Station, local students, and members of Fairfax County’s Neighborhood and Community Services, Coordinated Services Planning and Volunteer Fairfax.
Franklin Middle School eighth-grader Zoe Nunn got volunteer-service hours for school for lending a hand. “I’m greeting people at the entrance and handing out lists of the needed food items,” she said. “It’s pretty fun because it’s nice to talk to and meet new people. I like to know that I’m helping people, and it’s a fun experience overall. My mom and I are doing this together.”
MPO Reanna Jacobson and three auxiliary police officers represented the Fair Oaks District Station. “After people have paid for the items they’re donating, we collect them in shopping carts to go ‘stuff the bus,’” she said. Garris said the food donations were then weighed as they went into the bus.
“I’m very excited to have this event in our store because it’s giving back to the community, and that’s one of Walmart’s goals,” said Arati Sigdel, a Walmart coach (similar to an assistant manager). “I’m new to this store, but I’m pleased to know that this particular Walmart has been hosting this for a few years.”
As for the county representatives, Garris said they were there so people could “learn how to get help for themselves by talking to the volunteers here.” Two of them were Monica Obozele and Arathi Krishendra of Coordinated Services Planning (CSP).
“Fairfax County has different organizations that help within the community,” explained Obozele. “So people can call CSP at 703-222-0880, and we’d do an assessment to see how we could help them.”
Krishendra said county residents contact CSP seeking emergency assistance – food, clothing, shelter and money. “Britepaths is one of the nonprofit or community-based organizations that CSP partners with to help out with these emergency needs,” she explained. “We’re also an information resource line for community services, such as where people can find transportation or obtain permits.”
And often, CSP refers residents to Britepaths. “They’re doing a wonderful job of helping families and individuals in crisis,” said Krishendra. “So it’s wonderful to be here with them today, see our community partners in person and team up on this good cause of stocking their pantry.”
BRITEPATHS spokeswoman Heather Webb called the Stuff the Bus food drive “always a wonderful reminder of how generous our neighbors are. We raised $2,034.45 [in donated merchandise, cash and gift cards] to help feed local families in need while they work through a crisis. We are grateful to everyone who came out and donated and to our wonderful volunteers, including Fairfax County employees and police officers, who helped make the day a success.
“We would also like to thank Fairfax County and [bus provider] MV Transportation for sponsoring these drives, and Walmart for hosting us. However, the need is ongoing, so community members who wish to donate, as well, may do so by visiting our Food Bridge page at britepaths.org.”