Charities Find Food Needs On The Rise

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Dinner at Christ House on West Street in Alexandria begins at 4:30 p.m. By 5:30 more than 70 people have been served a nutritious hot meal.

A year ago we were averaging 45 to 50 people at dinner, said Tom Bransfield, Christ House case manager. Sadly, business is booming.

Volunteers from many area churches, civic and social organizations prepare and serve the evening meal and have been doing so since the shelter opened in 1973. No one is ever turned away.

Christ House also operates a food pantry and distributes emergency assistance bags of food. Requests for emergency food are up more than 300 percent over last year.

Rising prices for food, lost jobs, foreclosures and economic instability mean that everyone is feeling the pinch. There are pockets of poverty scattered throughout Alexandria. The Salvation Army, Carpenters Shelter, United Community Ministries and Hopkins House are some of the many Alexandria-based organizations that are experiencing an increase in need and at the same time seeing reductions in funding from their usual sources of support.

One of the largest programs in the city is run by Alexandrians InVolved Ecumenically, more commonly known as ALIVE. The organization of 41 affiliated congregations provides food, shelter and monetary assistance to Alexandrians in need. Congregations conduct food drives and supply the volunteers to package and distribute the donated food.

Their Last Saturday Food Distribution program provides a five-day supply of surplus fresh produce and staple foods distributed by volunteers. Distribution locations are Cora Kelly Recreational Center, Ladrey High Rise Food Collection and the Church of the Resurrection.

Families are referred to ALIVE by social service agencies and ALIVE congregations. Individuals who are referred to the program need to go to the distribution sites to pick up their food. In December and January, the Last Saturday Food Distribution provided bags of groceries to 4,057 individuals, 41 percent more than the 2,874 individuals served during the same period one year ago.

We have a walk-in day at Community Lodgings, said Bonnie Baxley, executive director. Tenants can come in with their needs and we help them with the forms so they can take part in the food distribution through ALIVE We are seeing an increase in requests.

Another ALIVE program, the Family Emergency Program, provides a two-day supply of emergency food to residents referred by the Department of Human Services. Ken Naser, Executive Director of ALIVE, reported an increase in calls to their office from people who find themselves in need for the first time and who have no idea what they need to do to get assistance. They are having a hard time figuring out what is available and how to access the system.

For almost 40 years, ALIVE has depended on the support of caring individuals and organizations to help us meet the demand for assistance from those less fortunate in our community, Naser said. As jobs are lost and people are faced with a rough economy, requests to ALIVE for helping meet very basic needs will increase dramatically. We will need to be diligent as well as creative in figuring out how we as a caring community respond to this call.

Throughout Alexandria there are nonprofits, churches and city agencies working in the food and hunger sector, including food collection and distribution or the serving and the providing of foods. There is no comprehensive database of providers and services.

But Volunteer Alexandria, through 1-800volunteer.org, lists member agencies providing food support and the items they need donated. The U.S. Department of Agriculture has a food bank and distribution program; services are available through the Department of Human Services. Crisis Link has been contracted to operate a 211 line.

On Wednesday, the Alexandria Council of Human Services Organizations will host a conversation with Alexandria nonprofits, churches and city agencies working in the food and hunger sector. The purpose of the meeting is to identify the organizations and to help answer who, when and where they are serving. This will assist in collaboration, help identify areas where services need to be increased and reduce overlap.

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