Hunger knows no particular time or season. For local families who don’t have enough to eat, it’s an all-year-’round problem.
So Western Fairfax Christian Ministries (WFCM) does all it can to provide food and financial support to those at risk of hunger and homelessness. And with help from community residents and companies, its Stuff the Bus initiative to fill its food pantry last Saturday, Jan. 27, was a success.
More than 8,000 pounds of food and $301.85 were donated thanks to this food drive held outside the Giant Foods store in the Colonnade Shopping Center off Union Mill Road. Local students, police, businesses and individuals all came together to help make a difference in others’ lives.
“The volume of food needed to sustain our food pantry each week is enormous,” said WFCM Community Outreach Manager Jennie Bush. “We could not do what we do without community support — it takes neighbors helping neighbors.”
The nonprofit organization was established in 1987 with just 12, member churches. Today, some 30 years later — and with the help of three dozen local churches — WFCM operates a client-choice food pantry serving more than 350 families a month. In fiscal year 2017, WFCM provided 40,506 bags of food — more than 3,375 each month — to families in need, mainly in Centreville and Chantilly.
“Hunger in western Fairfax County is real, causing food insecurity and stress for many who struggle to provide for their families,” said Bush. “During the Thanksgiving and Christmas holidays combined, WFCM served 1,723 households through its Holiday Food Program. With the tremendous support from churches, businesses, community groups and individuals who assisted WFCM, all requests for holiday food were fulfilled.”
However, she also noted that food contributions increase around the holidays and then diminish gradually through the months that follow. So in order to increase awareness of the need for food donations after the holidays, a coalition of agencies, grocery stores and nonprofit food providers created Stuff the Bus food drives during the winter months.
The Stuff the Bus Campaign, held at several locations throughout Fairfax County, allows residents to donate food to nonprofit organizations in the area. For Saturday’s event, Giant pre-ordered the food items most needed by WFCM’s food-pantry clientele, and then volunteers from Northwest Federal Credit Union filled hundreds of bags with these items.
Then, if they chose to participate, customers shopping at Giant were able to purchase these food bags in the store and donate them outside to WFCM to Stuff the Bus with food for its pantry. And everything was much appreciated.
“Western Fairfax Christian Ministries is exceedingly grateful to be a recipient of the Stuff the Bus for Fairfax food drive held at the Clifton Giant last Saturday,” said Bush. “It was a beautiful day — one of those days you want to be outside playing soccer all day. And yet, we still had an amazing turnout from the community.”
She also praised the many people who volunteered their time and talents toward this cause. “We had wonderful volunteers, both onsite and behind the scenes, ensuring that our event was a success,” she said. “Employees from Northwest Federal Credit Union helped fill over 600 bags of food for Stuff the Bus.”
The bags included flour, sugar, canned fruit, beans and tomatoes, as well as either a can of chicken or tuna. “We offered these bags, valued at about $10 each, to customers to make it easier for them to donate the food we needed for our shelves,” said Bush. “We feel it’s important to get food our clients need and want. And having the credit-union volunteers help make these bags ahead of the event made it easy for others to give.”
Furthermore, she said, “The Clifton Giant was awesome to work with at the event. Store Manager Ken Trask worked diligently to have the food available, and the cashiers were friendly and supportive.”
Also providing invaluable help were Westfield High SGA students who volunteered in shifts all day for Stuff the Bus. “The students did a great job talking up the need to customers entering the store,” said Bush. “They handed out fliers listing the specific items needed at the food pantry and asked customers to contribute anything from that list or to purchase and donate one of the pre-made bags of food.”
But that’s not all. “WFCM also had tremendous support from the Sully District Police Station,” said Bush. “Many police officers came out to greet customers, help weigh food donations and load the bus.” And when the MV Transportation bus they were packing with food became full, WFCM used one of the police trucks to take additional donations from the Giant to the food pantry.
“We really needed the support of the police this year.” said Bush. “The Station Commander, Capt. Dean Lay, enjoyed lending a helping hand at our food drive, and MPO Sabrina Ruck organized shifts for the police officers to work,” Also helping out that day were volunteers from the Centreville Baptist Church Relevance Community Group.
Delighted with the overall community response, both Bush and WFCM Food Pantry Manager Terri Kelly were pleased with all the contributions. “We received many items that are staples on our shelves year ’round, including canned meats, canned fruit, rice and dry beans, peanut butter and fruit juice, as well as shampoo and other needed, personal-care items,” said Kelly, “One of the larger donations came from the Fairfax Coalition of Police, which purchased 30 bags of food to donate to WFCM.”
All in all, said Bush, “We are very thankful for our community’s generosity and the support of so many who partner with us to serve families needing assistance. WFCM is grateful to Fairfax County’s Neighborhood and Community Services, Office of Public Private Partnerships and MV Transportation Inc. for creating the Stuff the Bus Food for Fairfax food drives to address this great need in our community and for inviting WFCM to participate.”
For a full list of food and personal care items needed each month for WFCM’s clients, go to www.WFCMVA.org.