Arlington, VA

A food pantry operating out of a residential garage in Lyon Village is closing down, after exactly a year of providing food to needy families.

On March 22, 2020, David Knepper was like many of us when the world shut down — housebound and unable to focus.

The 75-year-old had recently retired from being a home remodeling contractor and was using his garage near the corner of N. Cleveland and 18th Streets as a workshop for small projects.

But he was growing restless and wanted to help others who were struggling. So, he turned his garage into a makeshift food pantry.

“I decided… to share what I have with the people who are losing their jobs and can’t afford food to put on the table,” he tells ARLnow.

Knepper filled his garage with beans, rice, canned vegetables, peanut butter, tuna, oats and other non-perishables. He put out signs written in English, Spanish, and Arabic (thanks to a tenant from Saudi Arabia). People came immediately.

“Quite a few people came to pick up food right from the start,” he says. “Word just spread.”

Over the past year, he estimates that he’s gone through about 950 pounds of rice and hundreds of cans of vegetables.

Knepper declined to share exactly how much money he spent on the food, but estimates it was about the same amount he would have spent if he was feeding a family of seven or eight on a regular basis.

Despite its start as an individual initiative, the food garage became a community effort.

Knepper says dozens of people have dropped off food for donation, including a core group of 15 or 16 who did it on a regular basis.

“They would bring food, sometimes quite a lot of it,” he says. “I’d go out there and the shelves would be absolutely loaded with food.”

There’s one story of the man who caught sight of the garage on the way to visit his daughter. He worked at a Chevy Chase soup kitchen that was getting regular shipments of food but wasn’t using all of it. So, he dropped some off at Knepper’s garage.

Over the last year, Knepper has gotten to know a number of families who regularly picked up good.

“They are always so grateful,” he says.

David Knepper and his food garage (Staff Photo by Jay Westcott)

More than once, a family would come get food and then, a bit later ,would come back after they’ve gotten a paycheck and donate food themselves, Knepper said.

Knepper has lived in his house with his wife Sally for more than three decades but has never seen his neighborhood come together like they have during the pandemic.

“The neighborhood is very supportive,” he says. “My neighbors are great and even better during the pandemic. I’ve gotten to know neighbors I’ve never known before.”

After 365 days, however, Knepper is finally shutting the pantry down. He believes it’s time: the pantry is not being used as often and economic impact payments are in the midst of being sent.

“The last two months, I’ve noticed people are not picking up as much stuff as they did before,” he says. “One year is a good time to close it down.”

He started taking down signs and reclaiming his garage on Monday. All the leftover food is being donated to the Arlington Food Assistance Center.

Knepper says he feels good about the community banding together to help to those in need.

“It’s been such a heartwarming experience,” he says. “Everybody pitched in.”

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