This July LINK Against Hunger will celebrate 40 years serving the Herndon, Sterling and Ashburn area communities.
The organization began with a number of congregations combining their efforts to start a food pantry for those in need. Though it’s grown and changed over the years, LINK’s mission is the same: Christians linking their neighbors to food and financial assistance.
The entire LINK organization is run by volunteers. Patch sat down with three of LINK’s volunteers that have spent many years serving their neighbors through the organization.
Bob Ashdown has been volunteering with the organization for about 35 years and is the food pantry manager. He picks up donations from area bakeries, grocery stores, farmers markets and even schools, and oversees the pantry.
Jim Butts is the website manager for LINK and has volunteered with the organization since before it existed. He did much of the organization's paperwork on a daily basis for a time, and helped work with the furniture mission when LINK operated one.
LINK President Lisa Lombardozzi has been working with the organization for about 15 years, beginning when she began staying home with her children. She began as a food coordinator, then worked with the food basket program.
Lombardozzi said the biggest change she’s seen in her years with LINK is more involvement from the community, and how the church demographics have changed.
She said with so many area organizations that people can volunteer with, LINK has to fight a little more to stay on people’s radars, but at the same time they have been able to expand and respond to the increased need in the community.
Ashdown said in the past few years, during the recession, the community has become more aware of the need and responds very well. Social networking has had a big impact on community response, he said.
When LINK was running low on food for its holiday basket program, volunteers sent out a message on Facebook and people shared the message and responded to the need, Ashdown said.
He said the holiday basket program used to have three to four dedicated volunteers packing food over two to three weeks, but now more than 40 volunteers will come take shifts to pack the baskets.
Butts said he’s seen the organization start with a food mission, add a furniture and bed mission, then eventually phase it out again. They also had a clothing mission, which eventually combined with and became The Closet, located in downtown Herndon.
LINK is unique in that it’s the only organization that brings the food to its clients instead of having clients come to the pantry, Butts said. When someone in need contacts LINK, volunteers with the organization are usually able to deliver food to them within 24 to 48 hours, he said.
Butts said another unique aspect of LINK is how volunteers are able to assist stranded travelers at Dulles International Airport. He said they can respond within 24 hours to make sure they have what they need if they get stuck in the area while traveling.
Butts said in the first 25 years at LINK they had about 15 to 20 churches rotating responsibilities. Since then some have dropped out and others have joined.
Ashdown said the organization has received a lot of support from government organizations and elected officials, though none of it monetary. Local representatives hold food drives for the organization.
Lombardozzi said LINK has been consistent in its leadership, but has seen many different volunteers. A lot of volunteers come to the organization around Christmas and end up staying when they find they enjoy the work, she said.
Butts said in the near future he sees LINK working to improve communications with other area food pantries and banks. He said he’s also working on one phone number for those in need of food to call so based on their location they can connect them with the closest location.
Ashdown said he enjoys getting to meet new people and work with them through LINK, and at the same time the volunteers get to share the gospel and live out Christianity.
LINK gives people the chance to be the hands and feet of Jesus, Lombardozzi said. When they serve clients they get to know them, pray with them and sometimes find other ways to help them, she said.
Lombardozzi said she likes that an organization that includes many faith backgrounds has been able to collaborate to serve their community for 40 years, working together for something they believe in.
To learn more about LINK or how to get involved, visit LINK's website here.