Loudoun County residents on average consistently have among the highest incomes in the country, but like every community, some residents fall upon hard times on occasion.
While the numbers may not be as high in Loudoun as in some neighboring jurisdictions, plenty of people in the county go without, particularly as the country has struggled to recover from a recession. And that’s a reality that can be hard to imagine in the county’s manicured suburbia.
“I had no idea at all that this was a problem in Loudoun County. I was a oblivious,” said Annette Brennan during a recent Loudoun Board of Supervisors meeting.
But Brennan, a member of St. Matthew’s Episcopal Church in Sterling, said she learned more and now volunteers for programs like Back Pack Buddies, which supports 54 families at Potowmack and Rolling Ridge elementary schools in Sterling.
In response, what started as an idea by a few members of the in Ashburn morphed into a multi-faith countywide "Love Your Neighbor, Feed Your Neighbor" food drive with the goal of collecting 120,000 pounds of food May 5-12. Volunteers will distribute "Love Your Neighbor, Feed Your Neighbor" door hangers May 5 and return May 12 to collect donations, much like the Boy Scouts of America’s Scouting for Food program.
“The goal may seem ambitious, but we believe it is possible if we engage the help of our local communities,” said Lynette Austin, a representative of . “Even if we just collect 20,000 pounds of food it would be more food than if we had not tried at all with this project.”
Approximately 19,000 people in Loudoun—or 6 percent of the population—have been identified as "food insecure" or hungry, according to information provided by the group organizing the drive.
Several churches have committed to help area food banks. In addition to the door-to-door drive, there are numerous locations where food may be dropped off during the drive. See full list of the churches, food banks and drop spots below.
The has thrown its support behind the drive by proclaiming May Hunger Awareness Month.
“We are the wealthiest jurisdiction in the United States by household income,” said Loudoun County Chairman Scott K. York. “Yet we have about 6 percent of our population that is in need.”
Loudoun Interfaith Relief (LIR) focuses on helping Loudoun residents.
“Respecting one’s dignity and knowing how hard it is to seek services such as trying to feed your family is so difficult that we only ask for proof of residency in Loudoun County,” said LIR Executive Director Bonnie Inman. “We only provide food to Loudoun County residents.”
Erika Huddleston, pantry director at Messiah’s Market, operated by in Ashburn, said its not easy for people seek such assistance.
“These are real people in need,” she said. “I don’t know about you, but I would not wait two hours for a basket of food if I do not need it.”
The toughest time for those in need may not actually be winter, when the giving spirit consumes the holiday mentality. The toughest times often come a few months after the holidays, and during the summer months when school food programs are less prevalent.
Huddleston said Messiah’s Market ran out of food in July last year.
“That’s why Hunger Awareness Month in May is so important, because through the summer months is the time when nobody has hunger on their mind,” she said, adding that school feeding programs shut down and potential donor families are away on vacation. “It’s actually those times of year that the food is most needed.”
Galilee United Methodist Church in Sterling developed Back Pack Buddies specifically to focus on those gaps. The program started in January 2011 with 30 children at Meadowland Elementary School and now feeds 215 children at Meadowland and Catoctin elementary schools. Every Friday, students in the program receive a package with two breakfasts, two lunches and two dinners.
“We wondered, what’s happening with them on the weekend and in the summer months,” said Heather Flor, who serves as director of the program. “It’s shifted from being a Galilee United Methodist projects to something that we’re trying to replicate in other churches and in other communities.”
St. Matthew’s and Brennan were among those who signed on.
Everyone involved said the most important thing is to get the message out ot the community.
“I think the greatest challenge that I see is to open up people’s hearts to the fact that there are people in the community who have needs,” said Bob Ashdown, of LINK Inc., which has been serving Sterling and Sterling Park since 1972.
“All we have had to do is explain what this project is about and people have enthusiastically and lovingly joined this project,” said The Church of Jesus Christ’s Austin.
Martha Michael, of the Catholic Charities of the Archdiocese of Arlington, agreed that one the word is out, people gladly help their neighbors.
“Within the county, people just need to know,” she said. “Until started with Catholic Charities … I had no idea the demand was here. It’s the working poor, it is those who do our lower income or below poverty levels. And you just never understand the circumstances that any of us may be in. When we ask people, they are so generous. It’s just making people aware. It’s important that people know the demand that is out there.”
The six churches participating in the program include:
Food banks benefitting:
- Loudoun Interfaith Relief
- Seven Loaves Services Inc.
- Messiah's Market
- LINK Inc.
- Back Pack Buddies
- Catholic Charities of the Diocese of Arlington’s Loudoun office
The following types of foods are requested:
- Boxed cereals
- Hearty meats
- Canned meats, particularly tuna and chicken
- Canned ravioli
- Macaroni and cheese
- Canned fruits
- Peanut butter
See list with other images for list of drop-off locations. If you have a drop-off spot that's not listed, or if you just want to let everyone know the business name associated with the listed addresses, please let us know in the comments below.