The Arlington Food Assistance Center is preparing for its largest single-day food drive.
As food prices continue to rise across the country, Scouting for Food — an annual event held in partnership with local Boy Scout troops and Cub Scout packs — has taken on new urgency.
On Saturday, Nov. 5, Boy Scouts will go door to door and distribute bags to houses in the county so that residents can gather non-perishable food inside of them. The scouts return the following Saturday to collect the donations and bring them to Savior Lutheran Church, to be sorted by volunteers.
The food is then delivered to AFAC, where additional volunteers prepare it for distribution.
The drive has collected over 1 million pounds of food since 1995, and AFAC CEO Charles Meng says in recent years it has brought in upwards of 55,000 pounds of donations.
“And that’s desperately needed by the families who come to us,” he said.
Even in one of the wealthiest counties in the country, thousands of families are dealing with food insecurity.
The Arlington Food Assistance Center distributes food six days a week at its 2708 S. Nelson Street location. Meng says there has been a sharp increase in need since January and the center currently serves around 2,500 families, or roughly 8,000 individuals. He says a third of them are children.
“At this time of the year, we’re normally serving closer to 2,000 families a week, but we were up to 2,468 families last week, and that’s been increasing at about 25 to 30 families a week,” he said, adding that if the trend continues for a few more weeks, the demand will exceed the peak of the pandemic.
AFAC pays for 60% of the food it distributes, and higher food prices and increased demand are just two reasons Meng says this event is essential to the center.
“More families are coming to us, and so we need more food to give to them, which means we’re buying more, but we’re also buying it at a far higher price.”
He says the center is somewhat unusual because it purchases food to give away, whereas most food pantries only donate food given to them.
“So the Boy Scout food drive, being a national effort, really helps everyone throughout this country, and especially those food pantries that really don’t have the resources to purchase food,” he said.
The Arlington Food Assistance Center also holds food drives in various locations across the county, including at Arlington public libraries. Meng says the drives are critical as the holiday season approaches.
“During the holidays, it’s really important,” said Meng. “It’s one of the best ways to get the kind of food that our families like and will eat.”
A non-profit is teaming up with the county and schools to provide food assistance to students when classes start up again next week.
Food for Neighbors (FFN), the Department of Human Services (DHS), and Arlington Public Schools (APS) have announced a partnership where food, toiletries, and grocery gift cards will be collected and distributed to students in need on a weekly basis.
The Herndon-based Food for Neighbors has been partnering with Fairfax County and Loudoun County schools for the last five years, but the 2022-2023 school year will be the first working with APS.
FFN will work with students at three high schools initially — Wakefield High School, Arlington Community High School, and the Arlington Career Center — when classes start for the year this coming Monday (Aug. 29).
Renee Maxwell, Community Liaison for FFN, told ARLnow that a “rough estimate is that we’ll be providing consistent, regular support to 200-300 students” to start out. FFN works with the schools and staff to identify the students who are most in need.
The hope, though, is to expand to help more students at more schools soon.
“We’re thrilled to be working with the Arlington County Department of Human Services to bring our programming to Arlington Public Schools,” FFN founder and executive director Karen Joseph said in a press release. “Arlington is a highly diverse, vibrant area, and the expansion provides the opportunity for us to learn about and respond to the needs in the community, so that we may help even more students facing food insecurity.”
The main way FFN collects and distributes items is through its “Red Bag Program.”
That’s where volunteers shop for shelf-stable items, leave them in an FFN-supplied red bag on their doorstep, and other volunteers come pick it up, sort the food, and distribute it to local schools that same day.
The day-long collection event happens five times a school year. The first one to include Arlington is set to happen on October 29. Those who would like to volunteer to donate items are being asked to sign up “well ahead of time.”
Over 1,700 food donors and about 1,200 volunteers have signed up to help across Northern Virginia so far, per a press release.
FFN also provides shelving and cabinets to schools to store the extra food, as well as grocery gift cards and holiday meals.
During the 2021-2022 school year, FFN provided more than 88,000 pounds of food and toiletries to Fairfax and Loudoun County schools. Additionally, more than $105,000 in grocery gift cards were also donated so that students could have access to fresh fruits, vegetables, meats, and other perishables.
Food insecurity continues to be a major challenge in Arlington and across the region. Nearly 8% of Arlingtonians experienced food security recently, according to a report that was released earlier this year.
The rates were particularly high in certain neighborhoods including Glencarlyn, Buckingham, Ashton Heights, Pentagon City, Crystal City, Forest Glen, and Arlington Mill. All three of these high schools that will be served by FFN this coming year have students from these neighborhoods.
What’s more, the federal government ended the free meal program for all students earlier this summer. While students at several county elementary schools will still be able to receive free meals under the Community Eligibility Provision, the sunsetting of free meals nationally could leave some students wondering where their next meal might come from.
The hope is that Food for Neighbors could help fill some of those gaps.
“Through my previous work in Fairfax County, I have seen how influential a partnership with Food For Neighbors can be to address food security for middle and high school students,” DHS Food Security Coordinator Stephanie Hopkins said in a press release. “I know that Arlington community members have a very giving spirit, and I’m confident that they will come through to support the Red Bag Program by donating food and hands-on support.”
Fire Station 8 Now in Temporary Home — “On December 6th, 2021, The Arlington County Fire Department relocated Fire Station 8 into their new temporary quarters ahead of the construction of a new station. The temporary Fire Station 8 is located at 2217 N. Culpepper St, just behind the location of where the old Fire Station 8 stood for decades. In the coming months, the old Fire Station 8 will be demolished and work will be started on constructing a new Fire Station 8 in the same location that the previous fire house once stood.” [Arlington County]
APS Not Seeking Vax Status for Most Students — “With one major exception – student-athletes – Arlington Public Schools is not, and likely will not be, keeping tabs on the COVID-vaccination status of students. ‘We don’t know the names’ of those who have been vaccinated, Superintendent Francisco Durán told School Board members on Dec. 2. ‘The school will only be asking [parents] if your child is vaccinated if they are in close contact’ with students who test positive for the virus.” [Sun Gazette]
Still No Witnesses to Critical Crash — “At approximately 8:25 p.m., police were dispatched to a crash with injuries involving a pedestrian at S. Four Mile Run Drive and S. George Mason Drive. Upon arrival, officers located the unconscious pedestrian, an adult male, in the roadway. He was transported to an area hospital and remains hospitalized in critical condition. The striking vehicle fled the scene and there is no description of the vehicle or driver. Detectives have not located any witnesses to the crash. Anyone with information related to this incident is asked to contact Detective D. Gilmore at [email protected] or 703-228-4049.” [APCD]
Another Airport Noise Meeting Scheduled — “Arlington County, along with Montgomery County, Maryland will hold its third community meeting on the joint Airport Noise Mitigation Study for communities north of Reagan National Airport (DCA) on Monday, Dec. 13, from 6:30 to 8 p.m. The meeting will include a status update on the overall study, present draft recommendations for departure procedures, and take questions and comments from community members.” [Arlington County]
Sheriff’s Office Food Drive Deemed a Success — “On Thursday, Dec. 9, 2021, Sheriff Beth Arthur presented donations to the Arlington Food Assistance Center (AFAC) CEO Charles Meng. The Arlington County Sheriff’s Office collected 3,731 food items. ‘The Sheriff’s Office is part of the community and I believe it is important for us to support those in need during the holidays. I appreciate staff’s enthusiastic support of these efforts,’ says Sheriff Arthur.” [Arlington County]
It’s Friday — It will be mostly cloudy throughout the day today, with a high of 53 and low of 38. Sunrise at 7:16 a.m. and sunset at 4:46 p.m. Saturday will be warm, with a high of 68 and a low of 52, but rain is likely. Sunday will be clear most of the day, with a high of 59 and a low of 39. [Dark Sky]
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.
As coronavirus cases rise in Arlington County, the number of residents in need of fresh, free food for their families is also increasing.
Executive Director and CEO Charles Meng said the Arlington Food Assistance Center is seeing record-high numbers of visitors each week and month.
“Between October and November, we saw a 9.4% increase, serving 3,440 families at some point during the month,” Meng said in an email. “(We) responded to 11,255 visits for food during the month, with many families having to visit multiple weeks during the month.”
This morning (Monday), families lined up at AFAC to receive a Christmas special — a whole frozen chicken — as well as fresh veggies, desserts, milk and eggs. Volunteers split time de-stalking Brussels sprouts and briskly moving families through the line.
AFAC has seen people coming more frequently for food during the pandemic, likely because personal budgets that could pay for part of a family’s food needs are now slimmer or non-existent, according to Meng. He added that there has also been an uptick in people coming to AFAC for the first time.
“Many of our families are service workers at hotels, restaurants and airports — the hardest hit during the pandemic,” Meng said. “We are seeing the families who would normally access our services come more often and the new families are more regularly coming for needed food.”
The number of clients served by AFAC last peaked in August, with the organization serving 3,364 over the course of the month. When the pandemic started, the number of families being referred to AFAC jumped by 45%, Meng told MSNBC earlier this month.
The demand for food at AFAC has attracted both national and international media attention, with a BBC reporter visiting the organization’s distribution center near Shirlington last week.
They’re getting extra chicken for Christmas at this food pantry in Virginia. Without food assistance, millions of American families would have nothing to eat this holiday season. Our report soon on @BBCWorld pic.twitter.com/cVX4H93Ogg— Larry Madowo (@LarryMadowo) December 16, 2020
The rise in demand locally tracks with trends seen nationwide.
An Associated Press analysis of Feeding America data from 181 food banks in its network found the organization has distributed nearly 57 percent more food in the third quarter of the year, compared with the same period in 2019.
Food and financial donations are enough to keep up with demand, but as numbers continue to increase, Meng told ARLnow more help will be needed.
“We have sufficient supplies to address our needs for the foreseeable future,” he said. “Financial donations have also been good, but with increasing numbers we need all (the money) that people can spare.”
The annual Boy Scout food drive, which usually brings in 50,000 pounds, was cancelled, but several scout groups still came through with smaller-scale drives, bringing in 36,000 pounds, he said.
Donations from grocery stores are about level with last year, and individual donations have been “very strong,” he said.
Nationwide, food banks are seeing fewer volunteers during the pandemic, NPR reports. In some cases, the usual group of volunteers includes older people, who are staying home due to protect themselves from the coronavirus.
AFAC also runs on the work of volunteers, who Meng commended for making sure the food bank handles the increase in visits despite the danger posed by the pandemic.
“Distributing food is one of the things we do well,” he told ARLnow. “We have a dedicated cadre of volunteers who have stepped up to help — they are the real heroes of AFAC.”
Kids who want to talk to Santa Claus can drop off letters at the Gulf Branch Nature Center through Dec. 14.
For the first time, the park is collecting letters to send to St. Nick, rather than facilitating a weekend of in-person visits with the jolly one himself. In non-pandemic years, Santa visits typically drew up to 300 kids and families, park manager Rachael Tolman said.
So far this year, about a dozen kids come each day to drop off letters, she said.
Collections will end on Dec. 14, a Monday, to allow the snail mail ample time to reach the North Pole before Santa gets too busy, she said. Kids are encouraged to include their return address so he can respond with a postcard, and to bring canned goods that will go to the Arlington Food Assistance Center.
“Due to the pandemic, Santa won’t be visiting, so he very kindly let us set up a mailbox,” she said. “We tried to come up with other ways to have Santa in person, but we figured that this would be the best option because everything is so up in the air from week to week.”
A mailbox is not the same as an in-person visit, but it feels vintage — “a little old school,” Tolman said.
The park manager said she “absolutely” remembers writing to Santa as a kid.
“I can’t remember what I asked for, but I remember asking about Mrs. Claus and the reindeer, and I would leave carrots out for reindeer — along with the milk and cookies — because they were doing all the work,” she said.
Tolman said she has received many emails thanking her for the mailbox from people who had always brought their kids to see Santa, and this year, were not sure what to tell them.
“They were so relieved that we put the mailbox out, so that their kids could keep the tradition of coming,” she said.
Visitors can also check out the cabin, decorated for the holidays.
“We’re glad to keep the magic of the season as best we can,” she said.
County Launching Race Conversations — “Today, Arlington County launched a new effort to address racial equity and disparities in our community. Called Dialogues on Race and Equity (DRE), the effort is part of the County’s broader commitment to racial equity… DRE will include a series of virtual community conversations with individuals, nonprofit organizations, civic associations, faith organizations, and businesses.” [Arlington County]
Local Nurses Hold Food Drive — “Nurses at the Virginia [Hospital] Center are going above and beyond to give back to the local community… Nurses launched the ‘Together We Can’ campaign where they collected canned goods. All together, they collected 10,000 cans and donated them directly to the food assistance center.” [WJLA]
Virtual 5K for Local Nonprofits — “A coalition of three homeless-outreach organizations – Community Lodgings, Bridges to Independence and Homestretch – will be hosting their third annual 5K “Home Run for the Homeless” in a different format this year. Rather than running as a group on the Washington & Old Dominion Regional Trail this year, participants will be able to run where they choose anytime from Oct. 10 (which is designated World Homeless Day) to Oct. 31.” [InsideNova]
Penthouse Sold in New Rosslyn Tower — “The sales team for Pierce announced strong early sales for The Highlands‘ luxury condominium tower… Strong early interest in Pierce has resulted in over $18.7 million in sales by The Mayhood Company since launching sales in August, including the sale of one of two top-of-the-market penthouse residences.” [Press Release]
Theater Holding Virtual Halloween Event — “Synetic Theater will hold its annual ‘Vampire Ball’ in a ‘virtual’ setting this year, with participants enjoying the festivities ‘from the comfort of your own crypt.’ The event will be held on Friday, Oct. 30 from 8 to 10 p.m.” [InsideNova]
Nearby: Trump Rallies at Eden Center — Vietnamese Americans held rallies for President Trump at the Eden Center in Falls Church over the weekend. [Twitter, YouTube, YouTube]
Crystal City Water Park to Get Big Upgrade — “JBG Smith Properties is pitching a major makeover for a small park at the heart of its Crystal City holdings, envisioning some new retail and even a bar atop a water feature. The developer filed plans with Arlington County earlier this month requesting an additional 6,100 square feet of density for the 1.6-acre park, located across the street from JBG Smith’s massive ‘Central District’ project at 1770 Crystal Drive.” [Washington Business Journal, Twitter]
Vote By Mail Facts — “The first round of vote-by-mail ballots have been sent to people who requested them, but it’s not too late to request yours. Ballot applications must be received by 5 p.m. on Oct. 23. To help you understand how voting by mail works — and feel confident in submitting your ballot — we’ve broken down the facts you need to know.” [Arlington County]
Deer Rescued from Country Club Fence — “On Tuesday night, a curious fawn tried to get through a metal fence in the Washington Golf and Country Club. Unfortunately her adventurous plan backfired, and the fawn ended up stuck and stranded. The country club called animal control, which is under the Animal Welfare League of Arlington, and that’s when Officer Shannon Rose sprung to action.” [Washingtonian]
Weekday Afternoon Robbery in Ballston — “At approximately 4:21 p.m. on September 23, police were dispatched to the report of a robbery just occurred. Upon arrival, it was determined that the suspect entered a business, approached the front counter, and passed the employee a note demanding money and threatening them if they didn’t comply. The victim complied, and the suspect stole an undisclosed amount of cash, then fled on foot prior to police arrival.” [Arlington County]
National Landing Food Program Extended — “Thanks to generous support from the Consumer Technology Association (CTA), Amazon, JBG SMITH, Equity Residential and individual Arlington residents, the National Landing Business Improvement District (BID) announced today that its Farm-to-Families food assistance program will be extended through the fall.” [Press Release]
Addiction Recovery Org Rebrands — “The name will change but the mission will remain the same – working to help those struggling with addiction turn their lives around. Phoenix House Mid-Atlantic announced Sept. 16 that it would change its name to National Capital Treatment and Recovery, following its split last year from the national Phoenix House organization.” [InsideNova]
B-52 Flyover Attracts Attention — A B-52 Stratofortress flew low and loud over Arlington Thursday morning, likely as part of an Arlington National Cemetery funeral, turning plenty of heads. [Twitter, Twitter]
Va. Coronavirus App Gets Positive Reviews — “I often use this column to warn about the dangers of apps that track you. This time, I’m going to recommend you actually install one. There’s a new kind of app that uses your smartphone’s Bluetooth wireless signals to figure out when you’ve been in contact with someone who has tested positive for the novel coronavirus… It’s called Covidwise, and works in the state of Virginia.” [Washington Post]
Pedestrian Committee Chair Slams County — “‘The response that we got back from the County Manager’s Office and senior County leadership was that pedestrians are not a priority,’ said Eric Goldstein, Chair of Arlington County’s Pedestrian Advisory Committee (PAC), during the group’s first virtual meeting last week.” [Street Justice]
New W&OD Trail Detour Monday — “Upcoming construction activity for the new W&OD Trail Bridge over Lee Highway (Route 29) in Arlington will require a trail detour for about two weeks beginning Monday, August 24.” [Press Release]
ACPD Food Drive Deemed Success — The Arlington County Police Department’s “Fill the Cruiser” food drive collected just over 6,500 pounds of food last week. [Arlington Connection]
D.C. Area Leads in Tech Leasing — “Among the 10 markets reporting the most tech leasing volume in Q2, the year-over-year change in tech leasing activity ranged from +71% (Atlanta) to -74% (San Francisco Bay Area). Washington, D.C., and San Diego were the only other markets with volume increases, while Manhattan also had a large decrease. The five markets with the most leasing volume in Q2 were Washington, D.C., San Francisco Bay Area, Atlanta, Manhattan and Dallas/Ft. Worth.” [CBRE via Potomac Tech Wire]
After a successful food and toiletry drive last month, Clarendon Presbyterian Church plans to hold monthly food drives to help the Arlington community.
Last month, the church collected 105 boxes and bags of donations at its food and toiletry drive, exceeding expectations. In total, they raised more than $5,200 worth of products.
“Based on the demand, and the incredible community response, we’ve deciding to plan drive-thru collections each month,” said John Gunn. “So far, we’ve scheduled collections through October. “
The church will hold the next drive-through collection on Aug. 15 from 9 a.m. until 11 a.m. at 1305 N. Jackson Street.
The donations went to organizations that help the homeless in Arlington, according to the church. Food donations were directed to Bridges to Independence in Clarendon, which supports families with children. Toiletry donations were directed to the Residential Program Center at Columbia Pike, which supports single adults.
To ensure COVID-19 safety, masks are required and no social interaction is permitted at the donation site.
Those interested in donating can send questions to [email protected] or call 703-527-9613.
Photos courtesy of John Gunn
Civ Fed to Study County’s Form of Gov’t — “Herbert Hoover was residing – albeit somewhat tenuously – in the White House the last time Arlington had a major change in its governance structure. Nearly 90 years later, the Arlington County Civic Federation may get the ball rolling on bringing that structure into the 21st century.” [InsideNova]
Biden Signs Defaced, Stolen — “A big sign promoting Joe Biden’s Presidential campaign in Arlington’s Aurora Highlands neighborhood was defaced with pro-President Trump graffiti sometime between Sunday evening and Monday morning,” reports Washingtonian. Separately, a recent Nextdoor post shows video of an older man stealing a Biden sign in the Waycroft-Woodlawn neighborhood. [Washingtonian]
Alleged Courthouse Flasher Arrested — “The victim was walking in the area when she felt the suspect allegedly grab her arm from behind her. As she turned around, she observed the male naked. The suspect then fled on foot. Arriving officers, with the assistance of Metro Transit Police, located the suspect in the area and took him into custody without incident.” [Arlington County]
ACPD Conducting Food Drive — Arlington County police “will be collecting donations at drive-thru donation stations on Tuesday, August 11, 2020 from 6 p.m. to 8 p.m. at three locations: Westover Baptist Church – 1125 Patrick Henry Drive, Police Headquarters – 1425 N. Courthouse Road, Giant Food – 2901 S. Glebe Road.” [Arlington County]
Crystal City Concert Series Goes Virtual — “With the health and safety of our residents and visitors in mind, Fridays at the Fountain is switching to an all virtual format. Tune in every Friday evening at 7pm, beginning August 7th, for an hour of live music streamed right to your home.” [National Landing BID]
High School Sports Update — Updated at 8:15 a.m. — “The Virginia High School League’s Executive Committee voted 34-1 Monday to delay the start of the 2020-21 high school sports season by implementing a compressed high school sports scheduling plan that would run as of now from Dec. 28-June 26. The schedule would begin with the winter sports season, starting in late December, followed by the traditional fall sports season and ending with the spring sports season.” [InsideNova]
Nearby: Break-ins at Eden Center — “Multiple business were broken into at the Eden Center. Heavy police presence until further notice. Please avoid the area. No danger to public at this time. Any information to assist the investigation, please contact 703-241-5053. Thank you for your patience and understanding” [Twitter]