Tysons, VA

Falls Church High School (FCHS) wants to set up a permanent food pantry to help students who might otherwise go hungry, but to ensure a steady, reliable supply of food, it needs the community’s help.

It is the latest school in Fairfax County to partner with the nonprofit Food for Neighbors, which collects groceries donated by community members through its Red Bag Program to feed middle and high school students.

Falls Church High School will participate in its first Red Bag collection day on Mar. 6, when volunteers will drive by donors’ houses to pick up bags of groceries. With more than 100 families at the school relying on food assistance, the FCHS PTSA is making a final push to recruit donors.

Food for Neighbors Falls Church Area Manager Paula Prettyman says that, as of yesterday afternoon, 91 new donors have signed up for the Red Bag Program since FCHS joined just a few weeks ago. She hopes to get 100 new donors in the Falls Church area before the deadline for the Mar. 6 event arrives at midnight today (Wednesday).

“We don’t know yet how much food that is going to be for the Falls Church pantry, but it will be significant,” Prettyman said.

Falls Church High School first established a food pantry back in 2017 after receiving a grant and starting a partnership with the nonprofit Britepaths, according to Gina North, who serves as a special projects officer for the FCHS PTSA.

However, organizers had to suspend the pantry’s operations when schools closed last spring due to the COVID-19 pandemic, since students were no longer around to stop by and pick up food.

With the pandemic contributing to increased food insecurity around the county, the FCHS PTSA reached out to Prettyman for guidance to restart their food pantry. Prettyman also serves as vice president of the Luther Jackson Middle School PTA, which has been working with Food for Neighbors to help stock its own pantry since 2018.

Partnering with Food for Neighbors allows Falls Church High School to not only relaunch its pantry, but to expand it by appealing to the community outside of school parents and taking some of the burden of collecting and distributing food off of school staff.

“This has another organization that kind of specializes in this helping us, and it’s wider reaching,” North said. “There’s people in my neighborhood who have signed up that don’t have kids in Falls Church anymore. It’s just another way to give back to the community.”

For the Mar. 6th collection, Food for Neighbors will accept all shelf-stable food with family-sized items encouraged. People can also help by donating $30 to $75 for virtual red bags, which provide enough food to feed eight students for a weekend.

While she doesn’t know by how much, North says the number of Falls Church High School students who need food assistance has definitely gone up during the pandemic, with some students working during the day on top of attending school to support their families.

Having adequate, reliable access to food is critical for students’ academic success as well as their general physical and mental well-being, North says, citing her past experience as an elementary school special education teacher.

“I’ve seen firsthand when I have kids who I know didn’t eat breakfast or didn’t eat dinner the night before, they can’t focus on what I’m trying to teach them,” North said. “I used to keep snacks in my desk just for those occasions, because they need their basic needs met in order to take advantage of the education that’s being provided.”

Photo courtesy Paula Prettyman

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Friday Morning Notes

Deadline for Water Utility Relief Applications Extended — Fairfax County, Fairfax City, and Falls Church City residents who are experiencing financial hardship due to the COVID-19 pandemic can now apply for assistance through Fairfax Water’s utility relief program through Dec. 1, 2021. [Fairfax County Emergency Information]

Fairfax County Kicks Off 10th Year of “Stuff the Bus” Food Drives — “On January 30 and February 6, Stuff the Bus held food drives at 21 locations throughout Fairfax County and the City of Fairfax to collect nonperishable food donations for area food pantries. The drives were a resounding success, resulting in 33 tons of food, surpassing the 27.6 tons donated during the previous Stuff the Bus food drives in September 2020.” [Fairfax County Neighborhood and Community Services]

Madison High School Girls’ Swim Team Wins Fifth Straight Regional Title — “The girls high-school swimming and diving team again showed strong depth throughout its lineup to win the recent 2020-21 6D North Region event with a 420.5 point total, an improvement from last season’s 399 winning mark. Madison won four events, finished second in five others and had as many as 12 swimmers place in events.” [Sun Gazette/Inside NoVA]

McLean Youth Soccer Raises Money for Cancer Center — “McLean Youth Soccer leaders and players presented the Georgetown University Lombardi Cancer Center with a check for $2200.00 as a result of a fundraising effort held by the club and supported by its players during the month of October.” [Patch]

Staff photo by Jay Westcott

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Wednesday was a busy day for presidents past and present, but in between witnessing Joe Biden’s inauguration and paying their respects at Arlington National Cemetery, ex-Commanders in Chief Bill Clinton, George W. Bush, and Barack Obama grabbed a bite to eat — courtesy of Urban Plates.

Preparing lunch for three former presidents and first ladies was a joint effort by all three Urban Plates restaurants in the D.C. area, including the staff at the Tysons Galleria venue, according to Urban Plates spokesperson Hannah Jacobs.

“Urban Plates is honored to have been chosen to serve,” Urban Plates said in a press release. “We believe that delicious, affordable food made with quality ingredients is something that everyone should have access to — and that’s something we can all agree on.”

Food served to the former White House occupants included a chicken cobb salad and sustainable grilled salmon. Urban Plates says the dishes were “hits” but declined to elaborate on who ordered what “out of respect for their privacy.”

To commemorate the occasion, the restaurant will donate 129 meals to frontline healthcare workers: 42 meals on behalf of Clinton, 43 for Bush, and 44 for Obama.

The donations are being made through Urban Plates’ Nourishing Heroes program, which allows customers to sponsor a meal for healthcare, police, fire, and military service workers by donating $12 when purchasing food. The restaurant matches every donated meal up to 1,000 meals per week.

“Our mission is to make craveable, wholesome, and clean food accessible to all,” Urban Plates co-founder and CEO Saad Nadhir said. “We are proud to have delivered on that promise to three former presidents, first ladies, their supporting staff, and a group of Arlington Cemetery groundskeepers and workers on Inauguration Day.”

Photo courtesy Urban Plates

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Fairfax County is changing up its Stuff the Bus food drive this winter to support increased demand for food while accommodating challenges presented by the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.

Typically held twice a year, Stuff the Bus will kick off its 10th year of existence with buses parked at select locations throughout the county from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. on Jan. 30 and Feb. 6.

During the two-day food drive, community members can stop by the buses to donate nonperishable food that will help restock local food pantries, which have reported an uptick in the need for food and drops in volunteer rates during the pandemic.

To prevent the potential transmission of the novel coronavirus, donors should wear a mask or other face covering when at a Stuff the Bus site, and Fairfax County Neighborhood and Community Services (NCS) is directing people to place their donations directly inside the buses through their rear doors, rather than approaching the front door or the bus drivers.

Fairfax County is also encouraging people to make online monetary donations to the participating nonprofits in lieu of donating food in person.

According to the county, virtual donations give food pantries more flexibility, allowing them to purchase in bulk, stock up on fresh food, and obtain “culturally appropriate foods, which better meet the needs of the diverse communities they serve.” It is also less labor-intensive.

“Nonprofits often rely on the work of volunteers to sort and shelve donations,” NCS says. “The COVID-19 virus has greatly impacted volunteers’ ability to serve, especially older adults or those with pre-existing conditions.”

Fastran buses will be located at the following sites in the Tysons area for the upcoming Stuff the Bus food drives:

  • McLean Government Center (1437 Balls Hill Road)
  • Patrick Henry Library (101 Maple Avenue East)
  • Providence District Supervisor’s Office (3001 Vaden Drive)
  • James Lee Community Center (2855 Annandale Road)

Donations at the McLean Government Center will benefit LINK, which provides emergency food to people in the Herndon, Sterling, and Ashburn communities. The Patrick Henry Library drive will support Western Fairfax Christian Ministries on Jan. 30 and Cornerstones on Feb. 6.

The two Providence District locations — the supervisor’s office and James Lee Community Center — will support the Annandale Christian Community for Action on Jan. 30 and the Falls Church Community Service Council on Feb. 6.

A list of the most frequently requested food items can be found on the Stuff the Bus website.

Based on unemployment and poverty data, the Capital Area Food Bank estimates in its October 2020 Hunger Report that there has been a 48% to 60% increase in food insecurity in the D.C. region since the pandemic began.

Image via Fairfax County Neighborhood and Community Services

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(Updated at 3:40 p.m.) Chesterbrook Woods, a tree-lined neighborhood nestled in southeastern McLean, raised $6,000 for charity with a holiday lights event that residents organized on Dec. 19 in lieu of their usual caroling tradition.

Organizers say the donated funds will be given to the Share of McLean food pantry and the nonprofit Get Us PPE, which delivers free personal protective equipment to frontline workers and underserved communities. $200 will also go to the McLean Volunteer Fire Department.

The idea for “Light Up Chesterbrook Woods” came from a place of both grief and celebration, according to resident Carla Post, who says she started thinking about potential substitutes for the traditional neighborhood caroling festivities in November.

“I started thinking about…how so many lives had been lost and how so many traditional holiday mainstays would not happen this year,” Post said. “I started wondering what we could do to come together as a community in joy and remembrance.”

Post reached out to her fellow caroling organizers — Kara Stoll, Lori Boerner, and Amanda Majkowski — about doing an illumination event instead, and they “were unanimously supportive.”

Though they had only a few weeks to stage the event, the four women got such an enthusiastic response to “Light Up Chesterbrook Woods” that it ultimately spilled over into other nearby neighborhoods.

More than 260 households participated in the event, which involved the distribution of 8,000 luminaria – votive candles in paper bags – that residents used to decorate their yards, walkways, and driveways.

Many neighbors assisted by donating paper bags or helping deliver the luminaria kits to different houses. Other households contributed by providing outdoor entertainment during the event, from caroling and a trombone concert to a screening of the movie “Home Alone” and a performance by professional musicians Lynn Veronneau and Ken Avis from the jazz band Veronneau.

Boerner used Google Maps to create a route for residents to find the participating houses so they could admire the lights either by foot or from a vehicle.

Organizers say “Light Up Chesterbrook” was a clear success, and they have gotten requests to turn it into an annual event.

“It was such a beautiful evening all around,” Chesterbrook resident Patty Freeman said. “The weather was perfect for strolling thru [sic] the ‘hood to see all the lights, listen to wonderful music, and view the scenes on the movie screens. We truly have a special neighborhood.”

Photo by Michelle Joss

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Wednesday Morning Notes

Mixed-Use Development Near Dunn Loring Metro Sold — Avenir Place developer Mill Creek Residential has sold the property to two different buyers, with the residential portion going to Pantzer Properties and the retail going to Asana Partners. Asana says it “plans to pursue some physical changes to the retail, upgrading the outdoor areas and adding more gathering places.” [Washington Business Journal]

What Census Data Tells Us About Growth in Tysons — The Tysons Census Designated Place has added more than 7,000 new residents since 2010. Key changes include the number of people of Asian descent, who now make up 40% of the population, and people who speak a language other than English at home, a group that now constitutes more than half of all residents. [Greater Greater Washington]

Northam Allocates Additional $20 Million to Economic Recovery Fund — “This new funding will bring the program total to $120 million and will enable more than 300 small business and nonprofit organizations that applied before the last round of funding was exhausted in early December to receive grants.” [Office of the Governor]

Fire and Rescue Department Finishes Annual Holiday Toy Drive — “Via partners/donors, between 3,000-4K toys were given to over 55 schools, shelters and non-profits throughout Fairfax County.” [Fairfax County Fire and Rescue Department/Twitter]

Staff photo by Jay Westcott

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The Church of the Holy Comforter in Vienna raised more than $2,600 in donations with the drive-thru Nativity that it held on Dec. 19.

Patti Boerger, the Holy Comforter’s director of childcare, says the funds will be allocated to local food, shelter, and support services throughout the coming year.

Situated on Beulah Road, the Episcopal church typically stages a retelling of the Nativity — the Biblical story of Jesus’s birth — during its Christmas Eve services, but staff members knew continuing with that tradition would be ill-advised while the COVID-19 pandemic continues to rage.

While Virginia has not imposed mandatory capacity limits on religious services, the Virginia Department of Health warns that such gatherings present a risk for increasing the spread of the novel coronavirus, and faith organizations are encouraged to offer virtual or drive-in options instead of in-person services.

The Holy Comforter canceled several of the family activities it usually organizes during the holiday season, including events for making Advent wreaths and gingerbread houses. Church staffers came up with the idea of a free drive-thru live Nativity as a way to make up for those cancellations.

“We shifted gears at our staff meeting and asked ourselves what we could do differently,” Holy Comforter Rector Jon Strand said. “…The live drive-thru Nativity allows all ages to be safe in their vehicles and celebrate the glory of Christ’s birth.”

The Nativity featured costumed volunteers and live animals arranged in six scenes around the church’s parking lot. It lasted from 1:30 to 3 p.m.

The Holy Comforter was not the only church in the Tysons area to pivot to a drive-thru Nativity.

Patch reported on Dec. 15 that a similar event hosted by the McLean Stake of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints attracted an estimated 3,000 attendees over two nights. Donations went to the Share of McLean food bank run by the McLean Baptist Church.

Photo by Zachary Conroy/ImagesforGood.org

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The Weekly Planner is a roundup of interesting events coming up over the next week in the Tysons area.

We’ve searched the web for events of note in Tysons, Vienna, Merrifield, McLean, and Falls Church. Know of any we’ve missed? Tell us!

Monday (Dec. 28)

  • Providence District Coat Drive — The Providence District Community Center and James Lee Community Center are still accepting donations of new or gently used coats for local community members. Donors can call the location they are visiting ahead of time to ensure a contactless drop-off. The coat drive is ongoing until Jan. 31, 2021.
  • ESOL Conversation Group (Online) — 7-8 p.m. — The City of Falls Church’s English as a Second Language Conversation Group will host its weekly meeting for people looking to practice their English. Request a Zoom invite by emailing Marshall Webster at [email protected]

Tuesday (Dec. 29)

  • Falls Church Writers Group (Online) — 7-8 p.m. — Writers looking to give and receive feedback on their work can join this group hosted by the City of Falls Church. You can email [email protected] to get an invite to the Zoom meeting.

Thursday (Dec. 31)

  • New Year’s Eve Dinner — 5 p.m. at Blend 111 (111 Church St. NW) — The Vienna restaurant Blend 111 is offering a five-course tasting menu to celebrate New Year’s Eve. Both indoor and outdoor dining are available, and there will also be a “Spanish-themed” carryout option for people who would prefer to eat at home.
  • Flashback to the ’80s — 8 p.m. at Jammin’ Java (227 Maple Ave. E) — Doors open at 7 p.m. for this New Year’s Eve party in Vienna with DJ D, who will play classic hits of the 1980s from Prince and Madonna to The Cure and Billy Idol. There will also be a “Name that Tune” contest, prizes for ’80s outfits, and a midnight champagne toast. Tickets cost $35, and tables come with a two-item minimum purchase. Guests should adhere to social distancing protocols and wear masks at all times except when eating or drinking. You can purchase tickets through Jammin’ Java’s website.
  • Be Safe and Bubbly (Dec. 31-Jan. 2) — all day at the Hyatt Regency (7901 Tysons One Place) — The Hyatt Regency at Tysons Corner is offering a promotional package for guests who would like to celebrate the new year from the comfort of a hotel room. The $175 package includes $75 of credit per day for in-room dining from Barrell & Bushel, along with parking and a complimentary bottle of sparkling wine. Reservations can be booked through the Hyatt using the promo code 85936.

Sunday (Jan. 3)

  • “Sit and Sip” Meet and Greet (Online) — 10 a.m. — The Junior League of Northern Virginia is inviting prospective new members to a Zoom call to learn more about the organization, which aims to empower women through volunteerism and focuses specifically on addressing childhood obesity. During the call, current members will share their experiences and answer questions. People can RSVP through this link.

Photo by Michelle Goldchain

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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.

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Friday Morning Notes

Fairfax County School Board Approves Revised TJ Admissions Process — “The Fairfax County Public Schools board voted Thursday to adopt a “holistic review” for admissions to Thomas Jefferson High School for Science and Technology, a revision meant to boost diversity at the top-tier magnet school and that ends months of fraught and fiery debate.” [The Washington Post]

Express Lanes Operator Adds Co-Investors After Year of Reduced Traffic — “While impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic led to a reduction in Express Lanes traffic of around 80 percent in April compared to last year, Transurban has seen traffic increase gradually through 2020. In November traffic on the 495, 95 and 395 Express Lanes was down 39 percent.” [Transurban]

McLean Tech Company Donates WiFi Spots to Families — “To help provide equitable access to today’s digital curriculum through safe and reliable embedded internet connectivity, Kajeet and [Amazon Web Services] teamed up to donate Kajeet SmartSpots – controlled WiFi hotspots – with unlimited data plans to GOODProjects, which were distributed to 30 local families in need.” [Kajeet/PRWeb]

Town of Vienna Announces Holiday Decorating Contest Winners — Potomac River Running and the resident of 121 Casmar Street SE won Vienna’s annual holiday decorating contest. This was the first year of the competition to include residents. It also featured a porch parade. [Town of Vienna/Twitter]

Staff photo by Angela Woolsey

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