Tysons, VA

What started as a mom-led effort to help food-insecure families has grown into a large volunteer group giving groceries, kids’ clothing and more to roughly 150 people in the Vienna area each week.

Self-described bargain hunters Sharon McKew and Grace Westreich got to know each other through a yard sale site. They told Tysons Reporter via Facebook Messenger that they are leading the efforts behind the public Facebook group Community Cares Vienna.

“It started after schools shut down, and I found out many of the students I worked with would no longer receive the ‘blessings bags’ from the school,” McKew said. “It was just a way to continue to get them food.”

Westreich said the group “exploded overnight.” As of today (Wednesday), it has more than 300 members.

At first, the donations came from McKew’s wallet and former families from a daycare McKew ran. Then, Westreich started giving donations, and the two teamed up. Westreich now manages the money, orders, donation solicitations and delivery logistics, while McKew directs the volunteers and handles the food.

Over time, the group has turned into a space for people to share and solicit donations for items like bed rails, baby clothes, book bags, lined paper for students and more. As the coronavirus pandemic continues to impact vulnerable communities, it’s clear from the messages posted in the group that there’s an ongoing need for food and supplies.

A study earlier this year by Feeding America predicts that one in six adults — and one in four kids — could experience food insecurity this year. Jade Leedham with Second Story, a local nonprofit helping vulnerable kids and young, told Tysons Reporter in July that she’s seen a decrease in volunteers and corporate sponsors while the need for support continues.

Community Cares Vienna is working to keep residents and local businesses engaged. The group’s extensive reach is thanks to the “amazing volunteers,” McKew and Westreich said.

So far, volunteers’ efforts have included making masks for kids and adults, delivering disinfectants, buying school supplies and paying for art camps for homebound students, McKew said.

That’s not all. An anonymous donor donated their stimulus check. One mother-daughter duo dropped off boxes and bags filled with activities for kids. Several people organized neighborhood drives, while others consistently donate groceries. Girls Scouts and former daycare kids have prepared bags of food and teachers and staff from elementary schools are making deliveries.

The group also receives financial and marketing support from Lydia Russo, the local woman behind the Vienna VA Foodies Facebook group. People who want to get involved can email [email protected]

“Restaurants joined in, too,” Westreich said, highlighting local eateries that they made meals or donated:

“Sharon talks about kids waving from the window in excitement, the joy and sheer giddiness of knowing what the deliveries mean. Parents with tears of gratitude in their eyes,” Westreich said. “Sharon’s creed really has been, ‘No hungry bellies.'”

Photo by Maria Lin Kim/Unsplash

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