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St. Francis House in Dumfries provides food and financial aid across region

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Months ago, it was normal for St. Francis House in Dumfries to get a call from a family in need of food, a month’s rent or money for utilities. Now the calls are tinged with the effects of the pandemic.

According to Father John O’Connor, pastor of St. Francis of Assisi Church in Triangle, the outreach center received a call two weeks ago from a family in financial need. The woman had recently lost her husband to COVID-19, and she was now sick with the virus and quarantined with her daughter and grandchild. St. Francis House was able to help the family just as it has been helping families since it was founded by Father O’Connor in 1992.

While the center has suspended some services because of social distancing, it has increased its food pantry efforts significantly.
Director Francia Salguero has worked for the church for more than 10 years but has never seen such a need for the pantry before. 

“We have seen busy times, like during the 2008 recession, but this is different,” said Salguero. “There is a lot of uncertainty and people are scared. I see it on the new faces I see coming for food.”

According to Salguero, between 80 and 90 people pick up a grocery bag every Thursday; it used to be 60 to 70 people each week. For the month of April, the center provided 313 bags and a total of 7,825 pounds of food to families in Dumfries, Woodbridge, Triangle and Manassas.
St. Francis parishioners have risen to the challenge of meeting increased demand.

“They are very giving,” said Salguero. “We have a lot of senior parishioners, so they communicate with me for the items that we need. They order online and deliver to the church or my house.”

Some of the essential items are cooking oil, sugar, rice, paper towels, cereals, pasta and pasta sauce, canned vegetables and fruit, tuna, peanut butter and jelly. Parishioners are also making washable cloth masks for the clients.

Not only have the numbers increased but so has the distance some clients travel. Some are coming from as far as Woodbridge and Gainesville. The center recently received a call from Leesburg.

According to Salguero and Father O’Connor, St. Francis House is considered one of the top 10 outreach centers in the area, so it is often one of the first places people are referred when they call 211, the social services hotline. “No matter where they come from, they are more than welcome to come for food,” said Salguero.

In order to remain open, St. Francis House has enacted social distancing procedures to protect staff and clients.

The food and groceries that are delivered to the house are processed and packed by Salguero, a member of her household or Friar Henry Fulmer, a Franciscan at the parish. Salguero’s stepdaughter, Angelica, manages the emails, texts and phone calls while Salguero’s younger children organize groceries and pack bags. On Thursdays when clients arrive, they wait outside the front gate for the bag to be placed on the front step of the house. The client may then enter through the gate and retrieve the bag.

Groceries are still delivered to homebound clients, but volunteers wear gloves and masks. On Wednesdays, some older clients have groceries brought out to their vehicles.

In addition to the weekly food pantry, Salguero and her husband, Hector, provide 50 boxed breakfasts and bag lunches for the local overnight homeless shelter and the Bill Mehr Drop-in Shelter in Woodbridge every Saturday, a service St. Francis House provided before the pandemic.

While the outreach center is in the thick of responding to this crisis, it also is gearing up for a different type of crisis once the pandemic is over and Virginia begins to reopen.

According to Salguero, the center is beginning to prepare financially for a lot more requests for financial aid. While many businesses are being encouraged to waive rents and utilities temporarily,

Salguero thinks that won’t last forever and many of the people they help might have jobs that will not survive the pandemic.

While the future is still uncertain, Salguero is sure of one thing. People will call from near and far for assistance and St. Francis House will do its best to help.

For more information
To learn more about St. Francis House programs or to make a donation, contact Francia Salguero at 703/221-6344 or email francias@stfrncis.org.

© Arlington Catholic Herald 2020