Arlington, VA

In two weeks, Arlington County Police Department will hold its second-ever Fill the Cruiser Food Drive to support the Arlington Food Assistance Center.

The first Fill the Cruiser food drive kicked off last summer in response to the growing number of people struggling to put food on the table during the pandemic. That effort yielded 6,509 pounds of donated food. The next is now planned for Tuesday, May 18.

“We saw firsthand the growing need for food assistance and recognize this need remains high due to the ongoing economic impacts of the pandemic,” ACPD spokeswoman Ashley Savage said. “Through generous community donations, we can assist the Arlington Food Assistance Center as they continue their mission of feeding our neighbors in need by providing dignified access to nutritious supplemental groceries.” 

Outside of the food drive, officers have also assisted community organizations with bagging and distributing grocery items, Savage said.

AFAC has seen a significant increase in the number of families it serves — a 33% increase in the first few months of the pandemic, according to the organization’s website. Amid the surge in need, however, the nonprofit has reported fewer donations from grocery stores and leaner volunteer ranks.

More on the Fill the Cruiser food drive from ACPD:

The Community Resources Section will be collecting items at drive-thru donation stations on Tuesday, May 18 from 6 to 8 p.m. at three locations:

  • Giant Food – 2901 S. Glebe Road
  • Safeway – 3713 Lee Highway
  • Westover Baptist Church – 1125 Patrick Henry Drive

Upon arrival, donors should stay in their car until they reach the unloading areas, where officers will be on hand to remove donations from their vehicle. A separate area will be available for those arriving by bike or foot. All donors are expected to observe proper social distancing guidelines and wear a face covering while dropping off donations.

Suggested Items for Donation

AFAC accepts most unopened, unexpired, and unprepared foods, including perishable items. AFAC is most in need of the following low sodium, low fat and low sugar items:

  • Low sodium canned tomatoes
  • Low sodium canned tuna
  • Low sodium canned soups
  • Canned vegetables
  • Peanut butter (in plastic jars)
  • Low sugar cereal

Those wishing to donate, but unable to attend the Fill the Cruiser events should visit AFAC’s website to find a donation drop-off site near them.

Photo via Arlington County Police Department

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Morning Notes

Final Departure for Gate 35X — Reagan National Airport’s notorious Gate 35X served its last unhappy passengers last night. A newly-built, fully-indoor concourse opens today. [WTOP, Twitter, Twitter, The Points Guy]

Rosslyn Resident Makes Big Donation to UNC — “The University of North Carolina at Pembroke… has received a $6 million planned gift — the second largest in the university’s history — from former trustee Mary Ann Elliott to name the McKenzie-Elliott School of Nursing.” Elliott is a Rosslyn resident and former aerospace executive. [Yahoo]

Thursday Is Earth Day — “It might be easy to overlook Earth Day this time around, even in Arlington. Vaccine progress indicates better days ahead; in-person classes are returning; the air is visibly cleaner, and winter failed to freeze growth in bike sales and trail use. But Earth Day, April 22, has always offered a good pause to note long-term progress and dig below the surface. Just ask the periodical cicadas, due to reappear any moment after 17 years of silence.” [Arlington County]

History of the Pentagon’s Waterfront — “Today it’s home to the Pentagon, but around the turn of the 20th century, the riverfront area just north of National Landing was a seedy district known as Jackson City. A haven for drinkers, gamblers and daredevils, its attractions included, among other things, a half-mile-long racetrack near the foot of the 14th Street Bridge used for horse racing, and later, drag racing. Some even referred to it as a ‘Miniature Monte Carlo.'” [Arlington Magazine]

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Morning Notes

Feds: Comfort Inn Hosted Gun Cache — “Members of the Oath Keepers paramilitary group likely stored weapons at a hotel in Arlington, Virginia, as part of their plan to have an armed rapid-response force during the January 6 insurrection, federal prosecutors said. The new details flesh out previous accusations from prosecutors that members of the Oath Keepers assembled a ‘quick reaction force,’ or QRF, in Virginia that could deploy into the nation’s capital if needed.” [CNN, Politico]

Nature Centers Reopen — “Another sign things are returning to a semblance of normalcy, albeit slowly (this is Arlington, after all): The Gulf Branch and Long Branch nature centers, operated by the county government, have reopened. Hours and exhibitions are limited, but this marks the first time in nearly 13 months that Arlington residents have had consistent access to the nature centers.” [Sun Gazette]

Shirlington’s Past and Present — “This pet-friendly community five miles southwest of the District and adjacent to Highway 395 started off as a 27-acre former shopping center. Shirlington was one of the first strip malls in the country when it opened in 1944. For a while, it had the largest shopping center in the area and originally was named Chernerville, after automobile dealer Joseph Cherner, but the name didn’t stick. Instead, it was renamed Shirlington, a blending of Shirley Highway (395) and Arlington.” [Washington Post]

Amazon Not Abandoning Office Work — “As vaccines become more available, most companies may start to expect their workers back in the office and allow for just one or two days of teleworking a week — and Amazon is likely to be among them… That’s good news for many of the businesses and jurisdictions expected to benefit from the 25,000 to 37,850 employees Amazon has said it will bring to the D.C. region as it continues to build out its HQ2 campus in Arlington.” [Washington Business Journal]

Local Company Donates to African School — “Washington Workplace, an award-winning commercial office furniture dealer in Arlington, teamed up with Business Furniture Installations and a nonprofit alumni association to donate unused office furniture to Pioneer Middle School in Senegal, in West Africa.” [Press Release]

Letter Writer: Don’t Hate on the Cicadas — “The message of the havoc wreaked on young trees and shrubs, and the month of constant shrill buzzing has sent home an idea of impending doom… Although the ominous message of cicada arrival is likely still in your head – and I can’t argue that cicadas aren’t a nuisance – I ask you to remember that they do have a role in our ecosystem and a purpose on our planet.” [Sun Gazette]

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Members of Grace Community Church in Arlington honored thousands of unsung heroes of the COVID-19 pandemic: grocery store employees.

Over the course of three days, 75 volunteers from the church distributed 5,000 gift bags to employees at 60 grocery stores in Arlington and seven neighboring counties, said Anna Maia, the Director of Compassion and Justice at Grace Community Church, in a video.

“Thank you, grocery store workers for serving us through this whole year of this pandemic. It’s an honor to be a church in your community and to serve you as you’ve been serving us,” she said. “We are so excited to be part of this operation and to just show a little bit of appreciation to everything you’ve been doing.”

Each employee received a bag with a gift card, granola bars, lip balm, and an “essential” button that Maia said is a reminder “that they are remembered and appreciated.”

This was one way the church has worked in the community while being uprooted from its previous indoor location at Thomas Jefferson Middle School. Grace currently holds its services online and, weather permitting, outside of the school.

A volunteer named Stephanie said in the video that she was glad to participate because these frontline workers “are not thanked as much as the other essential workers.”

In the video, another volunteer named Anne said workers told her, “We are always telling each other that no one cares what we’re doing.”

One woman who works in a store’s customer service department called the church “to say how incredibly touched I am by this crazy-thoughtful gift. It’s just so beautiful. I deeply appreciate it.”

Photos via Grace Community Church/Vimeo 

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Morning Notes

Man Arrested for Alleged Carjacking — “Upon exiting the store, the suspect approached the vehicle associated with the female witness and attempted to hand the male occupant a drink. When the male declined, the suspect allegedly punched him on the side of the head and proceeded to open the vehicle’s door, pull him out and began assaulting him. The occupants from the suspect’s vehicle attempted to intervene and when the suspect refused to comply, they left the scene. Upon seeing that the suspect vehicle had left the parking lot, the suspect entered the victim’s vehicle and fled the scene.” [Arlington County]

Amazon Workers to Volunteer at Vaccination Site — “The company sent out an opportunity for employees to volunteer at the clinic on one of its listservs, and pulled in workers from all around the region, including those at Amazon Web Services, which has a hefty Herndon presence. Roughly 50 Amazon employees will help run the clinic each day… While Arlington health workers will deliver the vaccines themselves, Amazon volunteers will perform other important tasks, like monitoring people for symptoms after they’ve received a shot.” [Washington Business Journal]

Capitol Rioter Photographed in Arlington — “[Michigan] resident Anthony Williams used Facebook to show off photos and videos of himself inside the U.S. Capitol, which gave law enforcement officials enough evidence to arrest him last week… Williams posted updates to Facebook as he traveled to Washington, D.C. He posted his location in Bedford County, Pennsylvania with the caption “Operation Storm the Swamp” and posed for a photo with five other men at a sports pub in Arlington, Virginia.” [MLive]

Rosslyn Building Set for Foreclosure Sale — “A Rosslyn office building that hosts one of President Joe Biden’s favorite sandwich shops is slated to be sold at a foreclosure auction, the latest sign of distress in Greater Washington’s commercial real estate industry… a public auction is scheduled to be held 11 a.m. Wednesday outside the Arlington County courthouse for 1500 Wilson Blvd., a 17-story, 261,360-square-foot office building that stands at the intersection of North Oak Street and Clarendon and Wilson boulevards in Arlington County.” [Washington Business Journal]

Lopez’s Challenger Picks Up Endorsement — “The activist group Our Revolution Arlington has endorsed Karishma Mehta’s bid to unseat Del. Alfonso Lopez (D-Arlington-Fairfax) in the June 8 Democratic primary… The organization pointed to the challenger’s support for the Green New Deal for Virginia, single-payer healthcare, ‘slashing police budgets and re-investing those resources into securing people’s basic needs,’ repealing right-to-work laws and other ‘transformative policy proposals.'” [Sun Gazette]

Kiwanis Help Kids During the Pandemic — “Arlington’s pandemic-stressed safety net organizations received an infusion of funds from the Kiwanis Foundation of Arlington this month. The Foundation, the charitable arm of the Kiwanis Club of Arlington, distributed more than $50,000 to the Arlington Food Assistance Center, Arlington THRIVE, The Salvation Army, ASPIRE, Bridges to Independence, PRS Crisis Link, Doorways, Capital Caring, YMCA, Arlington 4-H, National Capital Treatment & Recovery, VHC Pediatrics and other non-profits serving children in the community.” [Press Release]

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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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Arlington’s Ellie McGinn and her family recently raised nearly half a million dollars to fund research into Ellie’s rare degenerative brain and spinal cord disease.

Ellie, 12, has lived with LBSL (leukoencephalopathy with brain stem and spinal cord involvement and lactate elevation) for the last 10 years. It affects fewer than 100 people worldwide and currently has no cure. Her family has been actively fundraising for a cure since 2013.

This year’s all-virtual efforts in honor of Rare Disease Day on Feb. 28 drew a total of $400,000 in donations from around the world. Last Wednesday, the McGinn family awarded the money to the Moser Center at the Kennedy Krieger Institute in Baltimore, which is currently developing and testing new drug therapies that could lead to a cure for LBSL.

“We know they want to find answers as badly as we do,” said Ellie’s mother, Beth, about the team at the Moser Center. “We are just so incredibly grateful to have this brilliant team of researchers working toward a cure for Ellie and others like her.”

Her parents, Beth and Mike, have raised nearly $2 million for LBSL research through their family foundation, A Cure for Ellie.

The McGinn family took its annual 5K through Fairlington online this year, and leaned into other online fundraising opportunities, including a Giving Tuesday campaign and social media outreach. Ellie and her sister Vivian even ran a Facebook live fundraiser in which they poked fun of their parents — throwing eggs at them or forcing them to eat hot peppers — when certain fundraising goals were reached.

“It was great fun and the audience stayed engaged,” Beth said.

But the family yearns for a return to in-person activities and is awaiting news on Ellie’s disease.

“We miss parties, and we miss the annual Fairlington 5K and Silent Auction,” her parents said in a Facebook post. “We miss all of you.”

Sometime this month, the family will receive a formal update on the ongoing research, the post said.

“We haven’t had one since last fall when the team was able to go back into the lab and safely resume work,” the parents wrote. “We are told there is good news and bad news. Not sure what that will mean for Ellie and the other families like us but we know that even in failure the scientists are learning.”

Since her diagnosis, Ellie launched a social media campaign to rename the illness “The Awesome Disease.” She and her family were awarded the National Organization for Rare Disorders’ “Rare Impact Award” and appeared on “The Today Show.”

The A Cure for Ellie Foundation will continue to fundraise and spread awareness for the “Awesome Disease” to help find a cure. Upcoming events, more information on Ellie and LBSL, and how to donate can found on the foundation’s website.

Photos via Vimeo

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Morning Notes

Reminder: In-Person School Resuming Updated at 8:55 a.m. — “@APSVirginia elementary schools re-open for preK-2nd grade on Tuesday, March 2, followed by 3rd-5th + 6th (middle school) and 9th (high school) grades on March 9, then all returning students on March 16.” [Twitter, Twitter]

County Buying Fairlington Area Apartments — “A push to redevelop the Park Shirlington apartment complex in South Arlington has fallen through, prompting county officials to take the unusual step of buying part of the aging affordable community. Arlington leaders signed off on plans in late January to purchase about half of the property, located along I-395 near the county’s border with Alexandria. The county will end up paying about $27.9 million for 105 apartments on a 6.3-acre parcel should the deal close in August.” [Washington Business Journal]

New Rosslyn Apartments Start Leasing — “Today, Penzance… announced the start of leasing and the opening of their interactive leasing center for Aubrey, the first luxury apartment tower to deliver at The Highlands, a dynamic mixed-use development project along the Rosslyn-Ballston Corridor.” [Press Release]

Amazon Donates to Wakefield HS — “As part of it’s celebration of Black History Month, Amazon presented a $15,000 donation to support Wakefield High School. This is the latest in Amazon’s ongoing work to support education and racial equality initiatives in communities across the country where its employees live and work. The donation to Wakefield High School of $15,000 will include the book Stamped: Racism, Anti-Racism, and You by Jason Reynolds.” [Arlington Public Schools]

Food Stand Operators Expand into Alpacas — “What started as just a food truck eight years ago [and later a food stand in Crystal City] has now turned into an expanded business. The Peruvian Brothers are actually selling a new product — selling alpaca poop. Yes, that’s right.” [WJLA]

Jaywalking Now No Longer a Primary Offense — “Though it didn’t garner as much attention as other police reform measures during the special legislative session that ended this fall, a provision to decriminalize jaywalking in a pretextual policing bill from Delegate Patrick Hope, D-Arlington, means that come March 1, police will no longer be able to stop folks for the act of crossing the street outside of a marked crosswalk.” [Virginia Mercury, NBC 4]

Amazon Funds Affordable Housing in Falls Church — “In response to concerns about the anticipated impact of its second headquarters in Arlington on the region’s housing prices, Amazon pledged $75 million over five years to affordable housing in Northern Virginia… Falls Church will get $3.4 million for a new affordable housing homeownership program and $350,000 to extend the availability of nine committed affordable apartments at the Read Building (402 W. Broad Street).” [Tysons Reporter]

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With FRK9 Brooks as its mascot, the Arlington County Police Department is hosting a “Fill the Cruiser” pet supply drive to benefit the Animal Welfare League of Arlington.

“FRK9 Brooks has a case of puppy love and is asking for your help ensuring his furry valentines at the Animal Welfare League of Arlington have the supplies they need,” a press release said. “For more than 75 years, AWLA has served the Arlington community with animal sheltering and control services to help pet owners keep their animals healthy, happy, and home.”

The drive, this Friday, Feb. 12 from 2-5 p.m., will be held at a contactless, drive-through donation station set up outside the Animal Welfare League of Arlington on the 2600 block of S. Arlington Mill Drive.

FRK9 Brooks, who turned one in November, is being trained for this. A police service dog, his responsibilities include participating in community outreach events and helping officers deal with “strong emotions and stress that are often an inherent part of policing,” ACPD said back in August.

Suggested donations include cleaning supplies, treats, Vienna sausages, Easy Cheese, toys, pill pockets, leashes, and buckle collars. A full list of supplies AWLA can accept is available on its website.

AWLA cannot accept pillows, sheets, comforters, plastic dishes, used cat scratchers, towers, trees and litter boxes, used or extra-large dog beds or prescription medications.

On arriving, participants are asked to stay in their cars until they reach the unloading areas. Officers will be on-hand to remove donations from their vehicles.

There will be a separate area available for those arriving by bike or on foot.

Photos #1-3 from the file, photo #4 via Arlington County 

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(Updated 4 p.m.) Since Girl Scout cookie season started, troops in north Arlington have donated 671 boxes to their hometown heroes: the staff at Virginia Hospital Center.

“It’s very local and very personal,” said Dorine Andrews, the Service Unit Manager for the local scouts. “[VHC] is a real institution in Northern Virginia, and we really feel that the healthcare workers are overworked.”

One of the troops — six Glebe Elementary 3rd grade girls of Brownie troop #60229 — harnessed the power of Instagram to sell 1,415 boxes, 395 of which they donated to VHC, she said. The troop with the second-most boxes, #60160, donated 59 boxes.

“None of the other troops have really done what this troop has done in terms of social media,” Andrews said. “It really worked well.”

The third-grade entrepreneurs used Instagram to work around some limitations to the online Girl Scout cookie platform, she said.

“The system works fairly well for buying cookies online, but for any kind of custom donations, it’s very difficult,” Andrews said. “I think these girls and their parents were incredibly creative.”

The cookies will be distributed via a “sunshine cart,” which one employee volunteers to wheel through the hospital, distributing snacks to boost morale, said Hilary Phillips, the executive assistant to the president at Virginia Hospital Center Foundation.

“We are thrilled that our local Girl Scout Service Unit has adopted Virginia Hospital Center as its ‘Hometown Hero,’ collecting more than 650 boxes of cookies to share with our staff,” Phillips said in a statement. “We continue to be grateful for the incredible support we receive from the Arlington Community.”

Phillips said the foundation tries to feed staff who work directly with COVID-19 patients, which works out to about 140 people each shift. Other local organizations have also pitched in.

The Columbia Pike Revitalization Organization has donated thousands of lunches to nurses. Local startup HUNGRY facilitated the donation of 600 meals to VHC in January, in addition to its other local food donation efforts.

But Phillips is looking for more support.

“Now I’m going on local people calling out of goodness of people’s heart,” she said.

Donations can be made by going to the foundation’s donation page and select “Healthy Meals for Clinical Staff by TryHungry.com.” Those who want to loop in a local restaurant through their donations can contact Phillips directly at [email protected]virginiahospitalcenter.com

Those interested in donating cookies can email Andrews at  [email protected].

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For Jeff Grass, CEO and Chairman of Ballston-based startup HUNGRY, a food distribution event in Arlington yesterday (Wednesday) had a bittersweet flavor to it.

While the company was able to prepare 6,000 hot meals for people in need at a drive-thru food distribution event at Central United Methodist Church (4201 Fairfax Drive) near its headquarters, it’s also a painful reminder that nearly one year after a global pandemic began, many Americans face a food accessibility crisis.

“On the one hand, it makes you feel good to be able to do something and it was nice to see how appreciative people are,” Grass said, “but seeing so many people coming by and needing a free meal highlights just how big and prevalent the challenge is. We’re Arlington, one of the richest counties in the country, and yet so many people are in need of food assistance.”

The company was able to distribute most of the 6,000 prepared meals in an event that ran from 1:30-3 p.m., and the remaining couple hundred that were left over were given to a local shelter.

Grass said he didn’t have an estimate on how many people attended the food drive, saying “it was car after car,” but that the company mostly limited the meals to ten per vehicle. HUNGRY had no protocols set up to screen for income levels, saying that anyone who showed up the the event was considered in sufficient need of a meal.

The handful of nicer vehicles, Grass said, were also a reminder of how much the pandemic had turned some lives upside down.

“I didn’t feel like it was up to us to challenge people,” Grass said. “Some people did drive up in nice vehicles, but everybody’s got their own challenges and stories, and everybody seemed to really appreciate it.”

The food distribution events had the added benefit of supporting the local chefs using the platform, particularly catering chefs who were some of the earliest victims of local business impacts.

“We’re in late January, past the holidays, it felt like the right time to do it,” Grass said.

It was the second major food donation initiative in January for the company. The first was a food delivery operation last week to National Guard troops posted in D.C. for presidential inauguration security following the riot at the Capitol earlier this month.

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