Fauquier Community Food Bank is a vital service to the Fauquier community, and Saint James’ has committed to providing a volunteer every Wednesday to staff the food bank and assist clients with choosing food.
You can help! There’s a signup sheet on the bulletin board up the stairs from the parish hall. Or, you can contact Sharon Michel.
The food bank is a dynamic program that can always use help from the community, and we hope Saint James’ parishioners will find a way to pitch in.
In 2012, the community food bank in Warrenton was slated to be closed.
Determined to keep it open, several people started the process of creating an independent non-profit organization to keep the service running.
When filling out the forms for 501(c)(3) status, however, they came to the place on the application that asked for financial assets.
They realized they had none.
“We just started calling people we knew and we got $20,000 [in donations] and so that’s the number we put down. Then people just started helping us,” says Sharon Ames, executive director of Fauquier Community Food Bank & Thrift Store, the organization founded in 2012.
“Community service only works when the community comes together,” she added later.
In that spirit, Saint James’ has committed to providing a volunteer every Wednesday to staff the food bank and assist clients with choosing food. The parish hopes that everyone who is able can support this vital community service in some way.
The food bank helps with nutritional needs for residents of Fauquier County, with eligibility based on income. It serves about 650 households per month. Often the food bank is able to assist people who otherwise wouldn’t be eligible for government programs.
“If you’re one dollar over [the income requirements for assistance], they cut you off,” says Ames of programs like SNAP, which she makes clear are very much part of the solution for addressing food security. But, she says, “we’re able to fill in the gaps.”
The existence of the food bank means access to the“good stuff,” as Sharon Michel, head of the food bank ministry at Saint James’, puts it, for people who wouldn’t otherwise be able to afford it. The organization makes every effort to have meat, eggs, fruit, vegetables and other nutrient-rich items available as much as possible.
Through partnerships with a plethora of businesses and nonprofits, the food bank can in some cases provide hundred dollars of essential food items to a family every month, items that might otherwise be out of reach.
It’s especially gratifying to be able to help seniors, says Michel. The food bank ensures that elderly residents“don’t have to make a choice between food and medicine.”
Last year, the food bank also served over six-thousand children. Food insecurity for families with children can have an especially negative impact.
According to the American Academy of Pediatrics,
“children who live in households that are food insecure, even at the lowest levels, are likely to be sick more often, recover from illness more slowly, and be hospitalized more frequently. Lack of adequate healthy food can impair a child’s ability to concentrate and perform well in school and is linked to higher levels of behavioral and emotional problems from preschool through adolescence.”
Often, Ames emphasizes, even families with two incomes can’t afford basic needs, especially in an area with a high cost of living like Fauquier County, one of the wealthiest counties in the United States, where at least one in seventeen people live below the poverty line. Seniors on fixed incomes, veterans and disabled people are also among populations most at risk for food insecurity.
The food bank also works closely with social services, and is consequently able to address food insecurity for individuals who might otherwise fall through the cracks, especially victims of domestic violence and abuse who might be reluctant or unable to get help otherwise.
This determination to“fill in the gaps” for the Fauquier community extends to the kind of food on offer.
The typical canned goods, some supplied by the federal Department of Agriculture and subject to specific rules, fill some of the shelves and certainly have their place in addressing food insecurity, according to Ames.
But through creative partnerships with local grocery stores, restaurants and community gardens, the food bank is able to provide an array healthy options that may be out of reach for people living on limited incomes, even if they are already receiving government assistance.
This is especially gratifying to Ames and to Cindi Carter, the food bank operations manager. When the food bank first opened, clients could only visit once a month, and even then, the selection was often limited to not much beyond the basic items supplied by the USDA.
Now, clients can visit twice a month for “full service,” meaning access to the array of better nutritional options like meats, vegetables and fruits offered through the food bank.
The food bank’s efforts most fundamentally means dignity and respect for people in the county who experience food insecurity at some point in their lives, no matter the circumstances. Its existence ensuring not only enough daily calories to survive – the most basic function of food-aid programs – but a well-rounded diet that is the foundation for improving a situation.
Ultimately, that’s what this place is about: doing everything possible to create a foundation for people ultimately to thrive, even in the face of setbacks.
Ames remembers helping one client of the food bank choose an outfit for her job interview. A couple of years later, that same woman returned to the food bank with a donation. She had gotten the job and was back on her feet. “It’s time to give back,” the woman said, insisting the food bank take the donation.
Mornings at the food bank have a driven, frenetic energy that staff and volunteers harness with business-like efficiency to prepare for a day of receiving clients, on average, about fifty people a day walk through the doors during open hours, from 12:00-4:00 PM every weekday.
Every detail of the space is organized with care. Walking in, it could be any small, upscale grocery store. It’s hard to miss how much the staff cares about giving each client a dignified experience during their visit, and a dignified existence more generally.
Ames and Carter greet clients with grace and cheerfulness, and never seem to lose sight of the importance each person’s story and the importance of finding ways to lift up anyone who’s fallen on hard times.
Clearly, this particular food bank is about much more than food.