More people in Fairfax County are facing food insecurity this year due to the COVID-19 pandemic, as illustrated by increased requests to the county and local pantries for groceries.
Fairfax County received 5,980 requests for emergency food from Mar. 1 to Dec. 21 of this year, a 56% increase from the same timeframe in 2019, according to Shweta Adyanthaya, a public information officer for the county’s Health and Human Services Department.
“The height of the requests came in the early months of the response — April to September — and then leveled off to average levels of requests since then,” Adyanthaya said. “Those households in need of food resources are referred to nonprofit and faith-based community partners, as well as other county resources.”
She encourages residents in need to use the county’s map application to locate food distribution groups near them.
One nonprofit in the Tysons area is Food for Others, which operates out of a warehouse in Merrifield.
Food for Others spokesperson Bridge Snydstrup told Tysons Reporter that the nonprofit is distributing food to an average of 4,000 families weekly, double the number of families it served pre-pandemic.
“The majority of people we are serving right now are unemployed due to COVID-19,” Snydstrup said. “Many of our clients work in the service industry and have either lost their jobs or had their hours significantly reduced due to the pandemic.”
She said that donations are also ticking up, helping the nonprofit meet the additional need.
“The Northern Virginia community has been extremely generous in helping FFO respond to the COVID-19 crisis,” Snydstrup said. “So many people have reached out asking what they can do to help and have either donated food or made monetary donations.”
However, volunteer rates are down overall, even though many in the community are interested in helping out.
“We have to limit the number of people in our warehouse to allow for social distancing and to ensure that our staff, volunteers, and clients are safe,” Snydstrup said. “We do have limited volunteer slots in our warehouse on weekdays, [and] those interested can sign up on our website.”
The best thing to do for those who want to help but are unable to volunteer is to host a food drive and drop off the donations.
Students in the area are also stepping up, Dranesville District School Board representative Elaine Tholen said in her newsletter on Monday (Dec. 21).
Last week, Cooper Middle School and Langley High School held a joint food drive for SHARE of McLean that brought in more than 6,500 non-perishable items. More than 40 students volunteered.
“We are thrilled to share it was an overwhelming success,” Tholen said. “We continue to be amazed by the generosity displayed by our school community and pyramid at large.”
The increase in demand for food assistance and drop in available volunteers are trends playing out nationally too.
Feeding America’s network of food banks have distributed nearly 57% more food in the third quarter of this year compared with 2019, according to an Associated Press analysis.
Meanwhile, NPR reported that food banks are seeing fewer volunteers, in part because the usual volunteers include older people, who are staying home to protect themselves from the coronavirus.
Food donation photo via Dranesville School Board Representative Elaine Tholen.