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Food pantries see jump in need during pandemic

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The line of cars started at the back of the church, hugged the outline of the parking lot and stopped at the entrance of St. Anthony of Padua Church in Falls Church. Those on foot formed a shorter line parallel to the cars on the cold, rainy morning. 

Volunteers wearing face masks and gloves worked under tents, putting dried beans, canned fruit and other goods into grocery bags. They urged recipients to stay in the cars as they themselves loaded car trunks with food. Those walking were asked to quickly grab the prepared bags lined up on the table. 

Other volunteers loaded boxes of pears and apples into metal trailers on the property. In the middle of the food distribution, the line of cars halted as a huge Capital Area Food Bank truck unloaded its wares. 

St. Anthony parishioners hold a food distribution every Monday and Wednesday morning, serving an average of 120 families per day, about 1,000 per month. But that number has jumped since the coronavirus pandemic began. “At the present time, we are having three or four times (that many people come),” said Ubaldo Cisneros, parish social ministry coordinator. “Last Wednesday, we served 522 families with every family taking between 30 and 40 pounds (of food).”

Food pantries all over the area are seeing increased demand due to coronavirus-related business closures, and are asking for more food for their clients. Diocesan Catholic Charities St. Lucy Project Manassas Food Warehouse set up a drop-off bin where non-perishable food items can be donated 24 hours a day. They are looking into hosting drive-through parish food drives. Many supporters have sent donations via an Amazon wish list. Last week, more than 400 pounds of food were shipped to the Manassas warehouse.

“Requests for food at Catholic Charities St. Lucy Food Project pantries are at an all-time high,” said Catherine Hassinger, director of community services. “At our Leesburg Regional Office, requests doubled from 45 households in an average week to more than 80.  At Christ House, usually we help about 53 households in two days. (Recently,) we helped 124 households, representing 370 people, in two days.”

“All of the people who come to pick up food mention being affected by the coronavirus,” said Cisneros. “Many (are) unemployed, many (have) fewer hours. People are terrified because they do not see how they are going to pay their rent and bills.”

Society of St. Vincent de Paul conferences within the diocese have seen an uptick in need as well, said Christopher Disney, district council president. “Our pantries are becoming inundated with requests for food and this demand is expected to increase the longer people are out of work and funds begin to become scarce,” he said. Their volunteers are no longer making home visits, but are still checking their helpline and aiding where they can. 

“One of our conferences received a frantic call from a young single mother with two children. They were completely out of toilet paper and she had no luck in finding any,” he said. “The Vincentian who took the call then scoured the Northern Virginia area shops and finally found a few rolls. He took them to the house and put the box on the porch. Just then one of the little girls opened the door and realizing what it was, said to him, ‘Are you the angel that my mommy said would help us?’ It just makes it all worthwhile.”

Find out more

To donate food to the St. Lucy Project, go to the Manassas Food Warehouse, 8426 Kao Circle. To learn more or to donate online, go here. Checks can be mailed to Catholic Charities St. Lucy Food Project, 8426 Kao Circle, Manassas 20110. To learn more about the Society of St. Vincent de Paul, go here


© Arlington Catholic Herald 2020