By Lisa Gunderman
Special to the Leesburg Patch
Back in May of this year, five denominations around Loudoun County joined forces to organize "Love Your Neighbor, Feed Your Neighbor,” a countywide food drive that resulted in the collection of over 54,000 lbs of food and over $12,000 in financial donations. This effort was widely supported by the Loudoun County Board of Supervisors as they issued a Proclamation declaring May 2012 as Hunger Awareness Month. The seemingly only logical next step from the enormous success of the county food drive was to continue to collaborate to find innovative ways of meeting the long term challenges of providing needy families with food.
Last Saturday was a Day to Serve in Virginia, Maryland, Washington, D.C., and West Virginia, rounding out a month-long, collaborative effort to mobilize residents to volunteer and give towards the often-overlooked, but very real problem of hunger. At this culmination to a time of service, the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints (LDS) hosted a Hunger Summit on Sept. 28, 2012. Representatives from community food banks and pantries, homeless shelters, churches, support organizations, and government officials including U.S. Rep. Frank Wolf (R-VA-10) gathered for presentations and a round table discussion of what more can be done to feed Loudoun’s hungry.
The two-hour, mid-day event was kicked off by welcomes from the LDS Church, after which Janet Clarke, Vice-Chairman of the Loudoun Board of Supervisors (R-Blue Ridge), spoke. Her dedication to hunger relief is rooted deeply in a difficult time in her childhood when volunteers, “people just like you,” she said while pointing to the group, brought much needed food into her home.
Next, Rep. Wolf explained how area organizations and churches need to better collaborate and coordinate their efforts. The resources are there, he said, but are not being fully taken advantage of. Partnerships with the public schools are growing due to his addition of language to the county annual spending bill which allows them to donate their excess food without fear of liability. Churches need to reach out to every corporation with a Loudoun address and build similar partnerships. Rep. Wolf went on to state his belief that if every corporation and school in Loudoun could hold one food drive a year, the food banks would never be empty.
“Hunger 101” was presented by Bonnie Inman of Loudoun Interfaith Relief. Inman gave statistics on the problem of hunger, with numbers of those seeking assistance only projected to grow, and a lesson on terminology such as the difference between a food bank and food pantry. Her goal was to educate so the group could go out and educate in turn as understanding the problem is key to garnering support.
One Hundred Women Strong is a foundation modeled on the giving circle: each member gives an annual donation of $10,000 and then the group selects from non-profit grant applications that are received. President Karen Schaufeld stepped up to talk about what her organization looks for in proposals and how to best prepare for the application process.
Rona Scott, Public Affairs Director of LDS Church, told the group to “think outside the box” in terms of requesting donations. In the current economy, corporations may not be able to give monetary donations like they used to, but they can easily offer donations of employee time. A short video showed the example of a Houston food bank that runs a peanut butter factory and how local corporations give their time to work the factory as a team building exercise. Scott put forth that we might make use of Loudoun’s agricultural strength by gathering volunteers for Plant a Row, a program in which farmers donate an acre or two of their land’s produce to charity.
Each table was given a question composed by area food pantries to discuss and develop over lunch and the key findings were shared with the group. Represented in the discussion were Blue Ridge Area Food Bank; LINK, Guilford, Messiah's Market, Seven Loaves, and Tree of Life Ministries food pantries; Backpack Buddies, Good Shepherd Alliance, Loudoun Cares, LCPS, and many other organizations. Present elected officials included Scott York, Chairman of the Loudoun Board of Supervisors (R-At Large), Supervisor Ralph Buona (R-Ashburn), and Dels. Tom Rust (R-86), Randy Minchew (R-10), and David Ramadan (R-87). Next steps were identified:
- Non-profits need to focus on making use of underused volunteer resources. Get school clubs involved; students are out there looking for volunteer hours. Corporations will organize volunteerism from their employees who will get to see the organization from the inside and then spread the word about the strengths of the non-profit.
- Non-profits and churches should communicate daily with the civic, business and government community and build two-way partnerships with them, including donors in their newsletters and on their web sites to recognize corporations as donors and friends of the local community.
- Utilize schools, school clubs, sponsor a teacher to orchestrate food drives in a given month. Many students do not know what food pantries or hunger needs are out there and/or how to help.
- Promote the program Feed Loudoun, Plant a Row and educate the community that fresh foods are acceptable donations.
- Reach out to grocery stores, schools, convenience stores, restaurants to create food waste programs with them
- Pantries and churches should aspire to help families through financial or vocational counseling and connect them with other agencies/services where they can receive aid, such as self-sufficiency programs.
By networking and pooling resources unique to Loudoun County, we can more proactively address the best approach for meeting the challenges of getting food to needy families effectively and efficiently. The success of the Hunger Summit has already led to plans to reconvene next year in September 2013.