Power Restored at Market Common — Power is back on at the Market Common Clarendon shopping center, following last Tuesday’s transformer explosion and fire. The electricity is being supplied by mobile generators over the next two weeks, before the shopping center can be reconnected to Dominion’s power grid. [Facebook]
Fire at River Place — A fire broke out in the kitchen of one of the units at the River Place residential complex in Rosslyn Saturday afternoon. The fire charred the walls of the kitchen. Smoke spread to several floors of the building. [Twitter]
Some Inconvenienced By Latest Metro Surge — The second phase of Metro’s maintenance surge is entering its second full week and riders have mostly adjusted to the latest round of station closures and service changes — but some are feeling the effects more than others. The current phase of “SafeTrack” work will run through July 3. [WJLA]
AFAC Seeks Fresh Food Donations — The Arlington Food Assistance Center is asking gardeners to donate fresh produce to help feed families in need in Arlington County. [InsideNova]
Metro Delays This Morning — Metro is experiencing big delays on the Blue and Orange lines after reports that a teenage girl intentionally jumped onto the tracks at the Eastern Market station. The Blue and Orange line is single-tracking between Eastern Market and Federal Center, while the Silver Line is only operating between Wiehle-Reston and Ballston. [Hill Now, Twitter, Twitter]
Gondola Feasibility Study Gets Eight Responses — Eight firms have responded to a Request for Proposals to conduct a feasibility study of a Rosslyn-to-Georgetown gondola system. The team for the study is expected to be chosen in about a month. The study is expected to be complete by the end of the year. [UrbanTurf]
Fire Danger Today — There’s an enhanced threat of brush fires today, even in Arlington. The National Weather Service has issued a Red Flag Warning for the area as low humidity and gusty winds combine for a significant fire danger. “Any fires will have the potential to spread very rapidly,” NWS says. [National Weather Service]
Parking Lots Crowded at DCA — Spring break and the Easter weekend are combining for a busy week and crowded parking lots at Reagan National Airport. As of this morning, the airport’s 2,613-space economy lot is full and there are only a few hundred spaces left in the 5,223-space Terminal B/C garages. [Twitter, Fly Reagan]
AYD Date Auction Next Week — The Arlington Young Democrats will hold their 15th annual charity date auction this coming Tuesday. Eligible bachelors and bachelorettes — along with face time with prominent elected officials — will be auctioned off to benefit the Arlington Food Assistance Center. [Arlington Young Dems]
Arlington Agenda is a listing of interesting events for the week ahead in Arlington County. If you’d like to see your event featured, fill out the event submission form.
Also, be sure to check out our event calendar.
AFAC Bar Olympics
Spider Kelly’s (3181 Wilson Blvd)
Time: 7-9 p.m.
Join AFAC for a night of fun and fundraising. Two-person teams compete in six bar games in a tournament-style competition. Entry fee is $10 per person ($20 per team). Top five teams qualify for cash prizes or gift cards.
Wine Pairing Dinner*
Osteria da Nino (2900 S. Quincy Street)
Time: 6:30-11 p.m.
Join Nino for a Campania wine pairing dinner at Osteria da Nino in Shirlington. The event will feature five courses and five wines for only $60 per person, plus tax and gratuity. Reservations are required.
Feel the Heritage Festival
Drew Community Center (3500 23rd Street S.)
Time: 1-6 p.m.
Celebrate Black History Month at the 24th annual Feel the Heritage Festival. This FREE event features live music and dance, a “Hall of History,” free children’s activities, delicious soul food and a great selection of vendors.
PAL Block Party
Duck Donuts (2511 N. Harrison Street)
Time: 3 p.m.
A bike-centric event in a car-heavy spot. Take a couple seconds from a stressful day and chat with ambassadors from Arlington’s PAL (Predictable, Alert, Lawful) program. There will be chairs, hot cocoa and incense.
And the Winner Is… Oscars Party
Arlington Cinema Drafthouse (2903 Columbia Pike)
Time: 7 p.m.
Watch the Oscars broadcast live on the big screen at the D.C. Film Society’s 24th annual party. There will be a predict the winners contest, trivia contests, giveaways and a silent auction. Tickets are $20.
(Updated at 5:25 p.m.) Local chefs walked away with big wins at a charity cooking competition in Clarendon last night.
The Arlington County Fire Department’s finest firehouse cooks faced off against three groups of local professional chefs in a reality TV-style cooking competition where the competitors had 25 minutes to whip up dishes using only ingredients found in the Arlington Food Assistance Center’s pantries.
Judges Scott Brodbeck of ARLnow.com, Becky Krystal of the Washington Post and Chef George Pagonis of Kapnos Taverna sampled each dish before choosing a winner of the round by ringing a large bell, signaling a vote for the firefighters, or putting on a chef’s hat. Chef David Guas of Bayou Bakery served as emcee for the night.
At the end of the night, the local chefs walked away from the Clarendon Ballroom (3185 Wilson Blvd) with two of the coveted “Golden Eggplant” awards.
Arlington County Fire Department’s Lt. Romulius Queen and firefighter Frank Rachal took home the first “Golden Eggplant” of the night with their Southern Style Fried Chicken topped with a homemade barbecue sauce and accompanied by a zucchini pasta with a thai peanut and ginger sauce. All three judges rang the bell.
“That fried chicken, he really nailed it,” Pagonis said.
Queen and Rachal beat out SER Restaurant chef and co-owner Josu Zubikarai, who made Rulada chicken ragout with mushrooms and spicy vegetables.
It was Queen’s first time competing in AFAC’s Chiefs vs. Chefs event.
“It feels good to go home with a trophy instead of going home crying,” he said.
Chef Tom Madrecki of Chez le Commis took home the second “Eggplant” with his caramelized onion soup with buttermilk, accompanied by homemade bread with butter. He earned the votes of two out of the three judges for his simple but flavorful soup.
Cooking with only the food in AFAC’s pantry was a challenge, Madrecki said.
“It’s reflective of what thousands of Arlington families have to do every day, so it’s very rewarding,” he said.
Facing off against ACFD’s finest brought its own difficulties as the firefighters were both skilled chefs and have a connection to the community, Madrecki said. Votes for the firefighters were applauded by the crowd, whereas votes for the chefs were greeted by good-natured boos.
“We’re the underdogs as the chef because they’re the ones out in the community everyday,” he said. “They’re the ones protecting us so it’s an honor to cook with them.”
Cooking is part of the firehouse lifestyle, said Acting Chief Joesph Reshetar, adding that the firefighters often try out new dishes on their coworkers.
“The firehouse is where they experiment,” he said. “If you can please us, if you can please a group of people, you know you’re on to something.”
Restaurant discovery app Spotluck will be donating $5 to the Arlington Food Assistance Center for every download and signup made with the promo code “AFAC” through tomorrow.
Spotluck is running the promotion in honor of AFAC’s Chiefs vs. Chefs fundraising event Wednesday night, which pits local chefs against Arlington County firefighters to see who can create the most mouth-watering dishes using only ingredients that would be found in AFAC’s pantry.
The “three-course throw-down” kicks off at 6:30 p.m. at Clarendon Ballroom (3185 Wilson Blvd). Tickets, which start at $100, are still available online. ARLnow.com’s Scott Brodbeck is a judge for the event, along with the Washington Post’s Becky Krystal and former Top Chef competitor George Pagonis, who’s executive chef at Kapnos Taverna.
Spotluck, which is a D.C. area-based startup and an ARLnow.com advertiser, says it’s proud to be “supporting a great cause with our good friends at AFAC.” In order to ensure the donation is made, users need to download the app, launch it and enter “AFAC” as the promo code on the signup screen.
Spotluck has 23 Arlington restaurants in the app and says it collectively sends those restaurants thousands of diners per month. In addition to helping users to find new restaurants, Spotluck also offers “preferred pricing” to restaurants that the user lands on via a virtual spin of a wheel in the app.
“Spotluck is a mobile app that allows you to discover local restaurants and save money in a fun new way,” says the company’s website. “With a simple spin, Spotluckers earn preferred pricing and forgo the hassle of figuring out where to eat next!”
AFAC serves some 86,000 pounds of food to more than 2,000 Arlington families in need each week.
Three firefighters will see if they can handle the heat in the kitchen as they take on three local chefs in an annual cooking competition and fundraiser in Clarendon.
The Chiefs v. Chefs 4: Too Hot to Handle challenges chefs and firefighters to cook three courses using ingredients found in the Arlington Food Assistance Center’s pantry. The competition will be held from 6:30-9:30 p.m. at the Clarendon Ballroom (3185 Wilson Blvd) on Oct. 28.
“Pick your favorite team and watch three of the area’s most scintillating chefs go toe-to-toe with three of Arlington’s hottest firehouse cooks in a three-course throw-down! This infamous on-stage battle is on fire as each team tries to impress our panel of judges and set their taste buds ablaze,” AFAC said in a press release.
This year, Chef Josu Zubikarai of SER Restaurant, Chef Tom Madrecki of Chez le Commis and Chef Jesus Guzman from the U.S. Navy will take on three different firefighters. The competitors will battle to impress judges Chef George Pagonis of Kapnos Taverna, Becky Krystal from the Washington Post and Scott Brodbeck of ARLnow.com to win the “Golden Eggplant.”
“This competition is going to be a challenge, but it’s nothing like the one faced every day by hundreds of Arlington residents. It’s on us to raise awareness and help AFAC continue to deliver positive results in our local community. As a chef, what better way to do that than to show the judges how you can transform commonplace ingredients into something interesting, complex and unique,” Madrecki said in a statement. “It’s going to be an uphill battle against the chiefs, but no matter the results, the real winner will be Arlington families who need greater access to nutritious food.”
Tickets for the competition start at $100, with a package of two tickets selling for $175. Proceeds will go to helping AFAC feed Arlington families.
Arlington County and a local nonprofit are raising awareness of housing and hunger in September.
September is Affordable Housing Month in Arlington. Throughout the month, Arlington County will be holding events that celebrate “the County’s long-term commitment to preserving and creating housing opportunities that benefit the whole community.”
There will be bus and bike tours of affordable housing complexes, a speech from national affordable housing advocate Chris Estes and a public forum about the benefits and challenges of offering affordable housing in the county.
During the month, there will also be public hearings on the Affordable Housing Master Plan on Sept. 8 and 19. The plan addresses the decline of affordable housing in the county and includes the creation of 15,800 additional affordable housing units by 2040.
“For decades, we have invested in our affordable housing programs to help us achieve our vision of a diverse and inclusive community,” County Board Chair Mary Hynes said in a statement. “These efforts support our residents at all ages and stages of life, improve our neighborhoods and strengthen our economy. This September, we will come together to celebrate our successes and discuss our challenges.”
Affordable Housing Month kicks off on Wednesday, Sept. 2 with a speech from Estes, the president and CEO of non-profit National Housing Conference. The opening reception is from 4-6 p.m. in the County Board room (2100 Clarendon Blvd, room 307).
The following events are also part of Affordable Housing Month:
- Sept. 12, 9:15-11:30 a.m. — Affordable Housing Bus Tour
- Sept. 16, 7-8:30 p.m. — Public Forum on Mixed Income Housing
- Sept. 21, 6:30-8:30 p.m. — Resident Services and Affordable Housing
- Sept. 26, 9:30-11 a.m. — Affordable Housing Bike Tour
- Sept. 30, 5-8:30 p.m. — Leckey Forum on Affordable Housing
The organization will hold discussions about hunger, a golf tournament, a film screening and multiple food drives to raise awareness of Arlington residents who struggle with feeding their families.
There will also be a month-long exhibit about AFAC and hunger in the lobby of the Arlington Central Library (1015 N. Quincy Street), with an accompanying presentation on Sept. 23 at 7 p.m.
“Over 2,200 families are coming to AFAC each week to access fresh and healthy supplemental groceries, freeing up tightly stretched funds for child and health care, rent, and other financial demands. The growing need shows no signs of abating and Hunger Action Month creates an opportunity to share AFAC’s story and expand its reach to every Arlington resident suffering from food insecurity,” the organization said in a press release.
The Arlington Food Assistance Center has been exploring ways to serve hungry families in Arlington by partnering with local businesses and larger corporations.
To that end, AFAC recently started Sponsor Purchased Food, a program through which corporations can buy produce, package it and donate it to AFAC as a team-building exercise.
“That helps us in a lot of different ways,” said AFAC executive director Charles Meng. “It certainly gets our name out in the public more. It engenders a donation. And it involves a lot of individuals who then tend to become donors once they find out what we do.”
Meng says the program has been “very successful,” with over 50 corporations participating in the past few months. AFAC plans to continue the program well into next year.
Currently, AFAC serves 2,100 families in the area and dispenses about 86,000 pounds of food per week at 18 distribution sites across Arlington. According to Meng, the number of people AFAC serves has doubled since 2013 and is currently increasing at a rate of about 25 families per month.
Last Friday, July 24, AFAC and Spotluck, a Bethesda company that created an app to connect people with local restaurants, worked together to put on a potluck dinner for 130 Arlington residents in need at the Gates of Ballston apartment complex (4108 4th Street N.)
Twenty-two restaurants around Arlington donated food to the potluck, including Sushi Rock, Don Tito, The Boulevard Woodgrill, Faccia Luna and Whitlow’s on Wilson.
Meng said that the event with Spotluck — documented in the video above — was a success.
“All of those restaurants [that donated] did a fantastic job, and the Spotluck people were really great to work with, and they were really enthusiastic,” said Meng. “When people actually get a chance to hand out food to somebody and see the people they’re helping, it gets the message across a lot easier and a lot more directly to the individual, so it’s really great to have a company like Spotluck working with us.”
Currently, about half of AFAC’s money and food come from individual donations. Of the remaining 50 percent, about eight percent comes from Arlington County, 10 percent come from local religious congregations and the rest come from local businesses, foundations and larger corporations.
“We’ve got tremendous support from a lot of the businesses here in Arlington,” said Meng.
Photos courtesy AFAC. Disclosure: Spotluck is an ARLnow.com advertiser.
Public Defender Decries Pay Gap — Arlington’s deputy public defenders can make up to $33,000 less than their counterparts at the Commonwealth’s Attorney’s office. Chief Public Defender Matthew Foley said the gap creates an unfair balance, one that allows the deputy Commonwealth’s attorney to grow their salaries on the job and talented public defenders — whose wages are locked in — are leaving the office. He called it “an unfair game going on with people whose liberties are at stake” at the Arlington County Board’s budget public hearing. [Connection Newspapers]
Fairfax Car Chase Result of Arlington Warrants — Updated at 1:05 p.m. — A car chase that broke out at the same time as yesterday’s manhunt was also the end result of Arlington police work. Lakisha Tracy was apprehended in Fairfax County yesterday morning after leading police on a high-speed chase that ended on Fairfax County Parkway in Lorton. Tracy was arrested on outstanding warrants for credit card and identity theft in Arlington County. [Washington Post]
Behind Arlington’s Meals on Wheels Program — Our Man in Arlington columnist Charlie Clarks goes behind the volunteers and beneficiaries of the Meals on Wheels charity, which was started in the county 44 years ago. Those receiving the meals, which are prepared by inmates at the Arlington County Detention Center, can range from the poor to, as one volunteer put it, “one four-star general dressed in a tie.” [Falls Church News-Press]
AFAC Sets 100,000 Meal Goal in April — With continuing record demand, the Arlington Food Assistance Center is hoping to receive 100,000 donated meals this month to distribute to Arlington families in need. AFAC expects to exceed its food budget by $150,000 for the second straight year, and Executive Director Charles Meng has said the nonprofit serves 100 new families a month. [InsideNova]
(Updated at 2:20 p.m.) A burglar made off with 200 pounds of meat between Friday night and Saturday morning, just before the Arlington Food Assistance Center was set to give out its weekly meals to families in Nauck.
AFAC dropped off its usual delivery on Friday night at at 2229 Shirlington Road, at the Bonder and Amanda Johnson Community Development Corporation, to be distributed to families on Saturday, AFAC Executive Director Charles Meng told ARLnow.com. At some point overnight, according to Meng and police reports, a burglar entered the building and stole about 200 pounds of meat. There is no suspect description.
“Chicken, fish, hot dogs and dried beans were stolen,” Meng said this morning. “We quickly replaced that so that the distribution could go on the next morning. It’s unfortunate, but it’s more of a case where somebody saw an opportunity and saw some food and took it. I suspect it was someone who was more in need of food than anything else.”
Meng said the food was being held in an office with computers and other electronic equipment, none of which was stolen. Considering AFAC delivers more than 80,000 pounds of food a week, Meng did not seem concerned with the theft.
“Two hundred pounds is going to cost us $200 or so,” Meng said. “We have the backup supplies to replace it. In our mind, the thing we want to do is make sure our clients get served. That’s our first objective. We deal with other matters after that.”
AFAC’s objective continues to be strained as the group struggles to meet the ever-increasing demand of Arlington’s hungry families. Meng said AFAC served a record 2,230 families last month and he’s projecting AFAC will exceed its food budget by $150,000 for the second straight year.
AFAC is serving 100 new families each month, Meng said, and he doesn’t anticipated the trend reversing itself anytime soon.
“We put in a request to the county for additional funding,” he said. “Right now their funding amounts to 6.8 percent of what it takes to operate AFAC. They’re getting a fantastic deal, they’re getting an 1,100 percent return on their dollar in one year. I hope they understand to keep this organization running and helping this community, some additional support is needed.”
Ray’s Hell Burger Opening in D.C.? — A PoPville reader spotted what appears to be a Ray’s Hell Burger Too sign in an under construction storefront at 451 K Street NW, near Mt. Vernon Square. Ray’s Hell Burger Too was previously located in Rosslyn but closed last year after a landlord-tenant dispute. [PoPville]
AFAC Serving Record Number of Families — The Arlington Food Assistance Center served 2,553 families in the week ending Nov. 23, the highest number on record. AFAC Executive Director Charles Meng says he plans to ask the Arlington County Board to bump its contribution to $500,000 from this year’s level of $342,925 during county budget season in the spring. [InsideNova]
Shoe Designer Opens Flagship Store in Pentagon City — Vince Camuto has opened a “flagship store” in the Fashion Centre at Pentagon City. Camuto sizes its shoes via “shoe stretching, a unique service that’s currently not offered in any other store in the area,” according to a local fashion blogger. The process “involves heating the leather and then placing it on a metal form.” [Life By Ashley Joy]
5K Race in Ballston This Weekend — The fourth annual running of the “Jingle Bell Jog,” which starts at the Bluemont Trail in Ballston and ends at the “Blue Goose” Marymount University building, is tomorrow at 10:30 a.m. The race’s proceeds go to benefiting the Young Constructors Forum of the Associated General Contractors of D.C. [PR Races]
Flickr pool photo by Dennis Dimick
The annual drive will provide Thanksgiving meals to a growing number of families that are relying on AFAC to supplement their food purchases. This year, AFAC is seeing record demand for its services and spent beyond its allocated food budget to provide food to all its clients.
In June, AFAC Executive Director Charles Meng told ARLnow.com that AFAC was serving 40 percent more families than the year before, a surge he attributed to cuts from federal food stamp programs. This year, AFAC has purchased 2,200 turkeys to give out next week.
Guas and Moran will kick off the giving at about 10:15 a.m. next Monday, according to AFAC spokeswoman Claire McIntyre. AFAC will be conducting turkey drives from 10:00 a.m. to noon from Monday through Friday, Nov. 21, to provide the centerpiece of Thanksgiving meals for its clients.
This year, for the first time, Bayou Bakery, at 1515 N. Courthouse Road, will be donating a pie to AFAC for every dozen it sells. The Louisiana-themed bakery and restaurant is offering sweet potato, pecan, bourbon chocolate chip, Virginia peanut, apple crumble and bacon cayenne pies.
“This is the first year we’ve partnered with [Guas] for that,” McIntyre said. “Because the pie purchasing happens during the holiday season, he can’t bring all the pies at once to us. We still wanted him to be a part of the day. It was really exciting that we got to pair him and Congressman Moran together to hand out the turkeys.”
Arlington’s top chefs beat out the county’s best firehouse cooks at a reality TV-style charity competition fought in Clarendon Wednesday night.
Professional cooks won two out of three “Golden Eggplants” awarded at the Arlington Food Assistance Center‘s third annual Chiefs vs. Chefs benefit.
Given ingredients found in AFAC pantries that serve a growing number of hungry Arlington residents, Arlington County Fire Department Lt. Richard Slusher and Firefighter Anthony Westfall of Station 4 in Clarendon took the first award of the night. They whipped up potato and zucchini latkes with a Mediterranean salsa and lemon-basil sour cream. The firehouse cooks bested chef Tim Ma of the Virginia Square eatery Water & Wall. Ma made a hot dog salad with avocado, corn, fish sauce and palm sugar.
“[The latkes] were elegant, well-seasoned and artful,” judge David Guas of Bayou Bakery said after he announced his vote by hoisting a red sign with a fire hat. “Do you have any more?”
Making a vegetarian chili with crispy chicken confit, chefs Kate Jansen and Tracy O’Grady of the Ballston restaurant Willow won the soup round of the food fight. They beat out Capt. Bosephus “Bo” Bennett of ACFD headquarters and Firefighter David Harrison of Station 5, who made a fall harvest root vegetable soup topped with curry whipped cream.
“It’s creamy and delicious, and the texture is lovely,” ruled judge Shannon Overmiller of Alexandria’s Majestic Cafe.
Bennett, a 14-year veteran of the department, said county firefighters were honored to help AFAC fundraise for needy people.
“It’s for the cause. That’s what we’re here for,” he said, noting that firefighters on calls regularly refer people with empty refrigerators to AFAC’s 18 food distribution sites across the county.
The nonprofit has seen a 40 percent uptick in the number of families it serves, executive director Charles Meng said. AFAC gave food to 1,452 families on average every week from Sept. 2012 to Sept. 2013. At the end of last month, that average had risen to 2,036 families every week.
“The number of families we’re seeing is just going up,” Meng said, explaining that Arlington residents say they’re struggling after sequestration cuts and reductions to Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program benefits.
The competition showed that simple foods can be turned into delicious dishes, Capt. Claude Conde of Station 9 said.
“If you use some imagination, you can get some good, healthy meals out of basic ingredients.”
Conde and Firefighter Joaquin Ibarra of Station 1 competed in the competition’s last round, making an entree of creamy risotto with chicken thighs and eggplant. They faced off against chefs William Morris and Peter Smith of Vermilion in Alexandria, who made a rolled chicken ballotine with chicken mousse, tomato ragu with corn and sweet potato, and charred onion.
The Vermilion chefs won the final Golden Eggplant of the night, after the judges ruled the ACFD dish to be under-seasoned.
AFAC, which is primarily run through donations, raised more than $45,00 from the event, Meng said. He said he was happy to highlight the firehouse-cooking tradition.
ACFD Chief James Schwartz explained why firefighters are such good cooks.
“The secret of firehouse cooking is you either cook or clean up. Either you’re a cook when you get here, or you learn fast,” he said.
Last week, Fair Share Education Fund released a report showing eligibility for free or reduced price school lunches is growing faster in suburbs like Arlington than in cities. Although the report focused on 2010-2011, an Arlington Food Assistance Center spokeswoman confirmed the organization still saw a huge increase in Arlington families using its services for the 2014 fiscal year, which ended on June 30.
AFAC served 1,400 families each week as of July 2013, and that bumped up to 2,000 families each week by this summer, which is a 40 percent increase. That equals about 5,000 individuals every week, of which 36 percent are children.
AFAC staff believes two factors contributing to the increase were last year’s government shutdown and the reduction in Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) benefits.
“Last year in November, the SNAP cuts went into effect and we immediately saw an increase in the number of families coming to us,” said AFAC Director of Development Joy Myers. “The average reduction per family was $36 per month. That may not seem like a lot, but when you’re scraping to get by and every penny counts and you’re $36 short, you’re going to try to find all your resources. When they get food from us, they can take that money and pay rent or gas and electric bills, or buy medicine.”
One way AFAC is trying to combat the growing food insecurity for Arlington’s children is by expanding its Backpack Buddies program, which began serving homeless children a few years ago. This year, the pilot program will open up to children in need at four elementary schools — Barcroft, Barrett, Randolph and Carlin Springs.
Kids enrolled in the program receive food on Fridays to take home and eat on Saturday and Sunday when they’re away from school. The kids can choose to take the pre-packaged goods home in their own backpacks, or borrow one and return it on Monday. The program is anonymous to prevent embarrassing children who are signed up. AFAC volunteers drop off the food and backpacks to school cafeteria workers and that’s where kids registered with the program can pick up their weekend supplies.
“We’re trying to de-stigmatize it as much as possible for kids to get the food that they need,” said Myers. “We’re also hoping because there are so many people struggling with food insecurity who aren’t speaking out, we hope this is a way for families to hear about our other services. We don’t want anybody in Arlington going hungry.”
Children at the four schools will take home an information packet when school starts, and their parents have to register through the Arlington Public Schools Office of Food and Nutrition Services.
Although AFAC always can use monetary and food donations, it especially could use help with Backpack Buddies because the pre-packaged, microwaveable kids’ meals are more expensive than other donated items. To donate, volunteer or set up a food drive, log on to the AFAC website for more information.
The Arlington Food Assistance Center, which provides meals to families in need, is experiencing a boom in demand that it doesn’t expect to go away anytime soon.
AFAC currently serves 2,007 families and 8,028 individuals, a 40 percent jump since July 2013 and a 37 percent increase in the last calendar year, according to Executive Director Charles Meng. Meng projects the nonprofit will exceed its $700,000 food purchase budget this year by $150,000.
Meng claims the increase is a direct result of two policy changes in Congress — the passage of the farm bill, which will cut more than $8 billion from the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (commonly known as food stamps) over the next decade, and the end of long-term unemployment benefits. Both resulted in cuts that have affected millions of low-income and unemployed Americans, and both have come within the last eight months, he said.
“It’s a very clear cause and effect in my mind,” Meng told ARLnow.com this morning. “The reductions in the SNAP program took effect Nov. 1, and it was November that our numbers started going up. It was a reduction of about $36 per family of four. You and I don’t think much of $36, but when you have very little funds, that’s a significant reduction in your income. That’s what caused people to come here.”
Meng said AFAC is transferring funds from other parts of its budget to cover the food expenses until the fiscal year ends, and its board of directors has approved a budget with an additional $150,000. However, Meng said AFAC must increase its fundraising goals and efforts or it must begin tapping into its reserves.
“This is unlike a recession situation when we see people coming to us, and when the recession eases, they’d be leaving us,” he said. “We’re not seeing that, these are basically going to be our clients on a long-term basis because this is a structural change to the funding available from the feds.”
In a letter to the editor to The New York Times, the president and chief executive of the Food Bank for New York City, Margarette Purvis, pilloried Congress and President Barack Obama for allowing the cuts to pass along with the farm bill.
“Charities will not be able to step up and save the day,” Purvis wrote. “We expect — and should expect — more from our leaders in Washington when it comes to keeping Americans from going hungry.”
Meng said “food donations are always a great help,” but AFAC is more actively seeking financial assistance to stem the tide of demand outpacing funding.
“At this point, financial donations are much more important,” he said. “The bottom line is, we can basically purchase three times as much food with one dollar as a family could in a grocery store. If we get the right funding, then we can purchase a lot more food.”