Our Executive Director, Eileen Smith, was interviewed by Jack Church of K-LOVE Radio network where they talked about the good work we’ve done at the pantry this year and where we’re going from here. The interview aired on March 26, 2023. Click here to listen and read below for the highlights.
“We have gone from very humble beginnings, maybe serving 25-26 families a week. And now we’re servicing just about 400 families a week.”
In 2005, Eileen saw her church collecting food and was inspired to get involved as a marketing volunteer for the small community food pantry. At the time, the HRFP served about 40 families in the community. Fast forward 18 years, the HRFP served 36,972 individuals in 2022, distributed 481,000 pounds of food and now has two facilities- a warehouse and the self-select pantry for clients.
How great is the problem of food insecurity in our area?
Though many of our clients are employed, northern Virginia is a desirable and very expensive place to live- a cost that is growing exponentially. According to recent data from Pew Charitable Trusts, a family of four needs to make $110,000 per year to maintain a moderate standard of living in Prince William County.
“You’d be surprised that many of our clients are teachers, school bus drivers and public servants who may make a combined income of $50 to $60,000 per year, which sounds great, until you realize it cost over $110,000 to live here.”
HRFP has seen a spike in senior clientele throughout the pandemic, with 7% of current clients aged 65 years old and over. With adult children (and potentially grandchildren) moving in with seniors to help make ends meet, their fixed income now has to stretch to accommodate three to four people.
“The social security check does not go half as far as it used to.”
Becoming a client of the pantry
“One of the key tenants that we have, according to our mission statement, is that we are here to feed our neighbors.”
There is only one requirement to receive food from us: You have to live in our zip code range. The only other question we ask is- how many people are in your family? If you have more people, you can have more food. There is also no limit on the length of time you can get help for.
“I’ve been working with this organization now for 18 years. And I do see some of the same people that I saw 18 years ago- though they are the minority of our clientele.”
When asked about making our clients comfortable in this potentially vulnerable situation, Eileen responded: “That’s one of the things that I’m most proud about our organization. We are very respectful. We’re very kind. And we provide our clientele a shopping experience…We very effectively train our volunteers to be able to know how to reach out to our clientele.”
Laid out like a grocery store, clients of the HRFP select the items they need and check out with staff when they are done. The self-selection the pantry provides clients with a sense of dignity, empowering them to select the types of food their families need, enjoy and will use. It also ensures that clients who have special food needs (e.g. diabetics) are getting the foods they need and not getting foods they can’t eat.
“We don’t tell them ‘you have to have this, you have to have that.’ If this week, they want peanut butter, great. If the next week, they don’t need peanut butter? They don’t take it.”
Where does the food come from?
74% of our food comes from area grocery stores. We pick up food that is nearing expiration- bread that didn’t sell or almost overripe fruit. We also have partnerships with a variety of local farms in our area, allowing us to provide fresh produce to our clients.
With monetary donations, we purchase food staples from our grocery store partners and Capital Area Food Bank, an organization serving all of DC and surrounding areas, where we can purchase in bulk at very reduced prices.
“We are so fortunate to have, every day that we’re open, fresh produce, milk, eggs, cheese, items that come from the deli, etc. We’re very lucky we have some very good suppliers for our customers.”
36% of our clients are ages 0 to 17. Several of our programs are geared towards children, including:
- Birthday bags: Helping families celebrate important days, even when times are hard.
- Snack packs: Keeping kids fed with nourishing snacks when school is not in session and other programs fall short.
- School supplies: Giving kids the supplies they need to succeed in school.
Partnerships like Boxes of Basics and Cakes for Kids have helped the pantry clothe children all year and make sure they have a special treat for their birthday.
“We’re very lucky to have very strong partnerships with those groups that provide those different items for our kids.”
“We have the world’s greatest volunteers.”
All of our volunteers are trained before joining the team- from the food distribution crew to maintenance and inventory. We have volunteers who take phone calls to make sure clients can get appointments. We have volunteers who pick up food from our grocery store partners and shop.
“We welcome each and every person to come help us because as you can imagine, doing this with all volunteers is a lot of work, but it’s great work. The people who volunteer, love to volunteer with us because they see immediately the fruits of their labors.”
The future of HRFP
Our board meets regularly and are actively involved in the guidance of the food pantry. The next initiative by our board is launching a strategic planning committee.
“We’re going to take a look at- what did we do? What did we not do? What does our community need? What can we provide to our community? And how can we best do that within the structure that we have, as well as the structure that we should have?”
To learn more about how to help the HRFP…