If the organizers and volunteers of two local nonprofits have anything to say about it, everyone in need in this county will have something special in the way of a holiday meal this year.
But they need our help.
It is easy to forget, especially during the busy holiday season, those that are hungry in our community. But the need is never forgotten, not even for a moment, by those leading two local organizations dedicated to feeding our county. FISH (For Immediate Sympathetic Help, a Fauquier County nonprofit working to supply nutritional needs in the community), and the Fauquier Community Food Bank and Thrift Store, are dedicated to the goal of ensuring that no one in the county goes hungry anytime during the year, holiday season included.
These leaders of these organizations are dedicated to, and deeply emotionally involved in, helping those in need. Both nonprofits credit their success to the tremendous support they receive from county organizations and ordinary individuals who volunteer their time, provide funds, and donate food and supplies. They laud the support they receive from churches, local charitable organizations, and generous individuals, and also recognize the important work done by Rev. Tyrone Champion at Community Touch.
Traditionally, these two organizations split the holidays, with FISH supplying Christmas meals, and the Food Bank and Thrift Store supplying those for Thanksgiving. The goal of organizers Kathryn Lamonia, Carol Shumacher, and Sharon Ames is to ensure everyone in need in this county will not only not be hungry, but will have a special holiday meal this year.
FISH (For Immediate Sympathetic Help)
FISH Coordinator Kathryn Lamonia and Food Manager Carol Shumacher describe FISH as “neighbors helping neighbors.” This community volunteer organization, founded in 1983, became an official 501(c)3 charity in 1999 and has expanded over the years to encompass four components, each of which serves the needs of different segments of the community.
FISH’s food pantry provides nutritional food primarily to folks who fall into an often overlooked “gray area”: those that are — often temporarily — unable to adequately feed their families due to job layoffs, family crises, or most recently, the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic, yet do not qualify for the Food Bank.
In working towards the goal of providing our county with quality, nutritional food, FISH purchases 90 percent of their food for the pantry from local groceries and markets, and the Fauquier Education Farm grows and donates fresh vegetables. Volunteers at the food pantry put together DASH meal kits; clients use FISH menus to pick out what they need. Clients can come once a month and generally receive food valued at between 80 and 100 dollars.
Weekend Power Pack
FISH’s Weekend Power Pack focuses on the nutritional needs of school children. Usually provided at the schools, the some 375 packages of lunch and breakfast meals packed by teams of volunteers are now available at strategic locations around the county for students who need them. Due to the pandemic, the amount of food included has been increased.
Kathryn was clearly emotional as she told me this experience often becomes personal, as she and her volunteers see the needs first-hand.
Senior Supplemental Nutrition Program
FISH’s Senior Supplemental Nutrition Program partners with the Department of Social Services and Hospice and works through the Senior Center to provide monthly nutritional support to seniors, many of whom live alone. The PATH Foundation helps to fund these efforts, and food auctions co-sponsored by the local American Legion Post provide funding as well.
Book Bag Program
FISH also has helped to facilitate providing book bags of school supplies to school-aged children in need. Due to COVID-19, these supplies are needed more than ever this year. They hope to expand this program in the future by providing supplies to teachers as well.
Fauquier Community Food Bank and Thrift Shop
Complementing FISH’s programs, Fauquier Community Food Bank and Thrift Shop focuses on helping those in the county most desperately in need of nutritional food. Those using the Food Bank must be verified by Social Services as truly unable to purchase food to meet their basic nutritional needs.
Chatting with Executive Director Sharon Ames in her office co-located with the Thrift Shop on Shirley Avenue, I learned that sale of donated clothing, housewares, and toys in the Thrift Shop helps to provide some of the funds to purchase food to supply the food bank. But those earnings are not enough. She revealed that while most of the canned goods are provided by the USDA, the Food Bank cannot purchase food that is fresh with its limited funds. Tears came to her eyes as she explained that those gaps are filled with support they receive from the local community. The local farmers and the Fauquier Education Farm always come through with donations, enabling them to also offer fresh vegetables and local meats. In addition, local 4-H chapters provide eggs, as well as meat and milk. As I wandered around the facilities, I was impressed by the large bins with donated fresh vegetables and apples.
For some, fresh meat is not only a particular need, but a treat. Sharon told me about helping a single man pick out groceries. When she noticed a distracted look, she asked him how she could help. Holding some meat in his hands, he looked at her and said, “This is real meat. The only meat I have had for many months has been canned dog food that I have fried.”
Early in the pandemic, Sharon witnessed the long lines of newly jobless folks outside the food pantry waiting to get food for their families. Again tearful, she remembers thinking, “How am I going to feed all these people?” Again, with an outpouring of local support, she was able to help these folks through the crisis. She estimates the Food Bank has been able to help between 500 and 700 Fauquier families.
In the past, county school buses would collect the donations of food brought in by the students from the schools and deliver them to the Food Bank. With the schools not in session, that system was in jeopardy this year. But on November 14, the school buses will be out again for this purpose. Donations this month will be particularly valuable as volunteers are already putting together, as they do every year, the ingredients of a traditional Thanksgiving dinner for those certified by Social Services. The community has the opportunity to bring food donations — to supplement the 200 turkeys given by one donor — directly to the buses, which will be located at schools around the county. With the community’s support, the buses will again be able to continue to this Thanksgiving-time tradition.
If you live in Fauquier County, you have a great opportunity, especially during this holiday season, to volunteer to be part of the work of these two busy organizations in whatever way you are able. The leaders and volunteers in both groups are committed and determined to blot out hunger in this county, and consider this to be the most important and meaningful work they have ever done.