The Helpers, The Doers and the Pot Throwers & Decorators

It’s 2020, so we don’t have to explain why the Loudoun Empty Bowls event was completely different this year. Instead of a celebratory end of summer night out at the lovely Stone Tower Winery with friends and family, we had a two night drive through bowl pick up.

There were hundreds of air hugs, and lots of quick catching up among people who haven’t seen one another in a long six months.  Puffy clouds floated through a sky dimmed by smoke from far away fires, making for a spectacular sunset tinged with all the worry, grief, and angst of 2020. People were glad to come to the mountain to give help to those in need, and gather up a bit of hope for themselves.

Beauty in the midst of this very difficult year is very welcome. Here are a few photos of the loveliness that is Loudoun Empty Bowls. Let’s hope for a return to gathering and shared community next year. In the meantime, we’re grateful for the helpers, the doers, the pot throwers and decorators who contribute to Loudoun Empty Bowls and the effort to feed those in need.

Wait, what day is this?

It seems like time is going by in an otherworldly blur. Our routines have been upended, and our days look nothing like they did six months ago. With the rate of change we’re still facing, both in our personal lives and in our work at the pantry, it doesn’t seem like the ground will stop moving under us anytime soon. This is a hard year, this is hard stuff, and we are doing hard things.

People all over Loudoun are having a hard time in different ways. Parents are struggling with making the right choices to support their children’s educations. Seniors are struggling with the social isolation that is part and parcel of staying safe. Children are struggling with not seeing their friends for months upon months. Masks are a new fashion statement, but the rules keep changing about which ones work.

Layer economic insecurity over all of that, and you have an even harder struggle. Families with income loss have all the same hard issues to face as everyone else PLUS the stress and anxiety of having to choose which bills will be paid and which will wait for a later day of reckoning.

Every day at Loudoun Hunger, someone asks “Wait, what day is this?” Sometimes it’s a tired volunteer or staff person, and the question is asked with a kind of bemused exhaustion. Sometimes it’s a person in need calling for an appointment, and the question is asked because they are just so overwhelmed.

Whoever asks the question, everyone else understands why. There’s no judgement here for day confusion! It’s the burden of worry about what will happen today, and uncertainty about tomorrow.

What we can do is make sure, to the best of our ability, that there is enough food to help those who need it for as long as this situation lasts. And so we are doing our planning for the fall and winter months, sourcing shelf-stable food as much in advance as we can. We may not always know what day it is, but we are laser focused on helping those in need have access to adequate, nutritious food. That makes every day a day well spent.

Just for fun – TP in the Time of Pandemic

A Variety of sizes of rolls of TPSince the beginning of the pandemic, we’ve seen lots of different brands of community generosity. One of the ways people have been generous is toilet paper donations.
From the beginning, when TP was not to be had, we’ve gotten donations of it here and there. We’ve held them for our most vulnerable populations–our elderly and disabled shut ins.

Now that the TP is rolling again, we’re seeing donations of all sizes. This is what was on our shelves yesterday. Who knew TP was made in such variety!

A Closer (but socially distanced) Community

It’s been awhile since we’ve posted here. We have to be honest–things have been intense at the pantry. Demand for services has evened out, but is still triple what is was prior to COVID-19, and in some weeks still quadruple. Our staff and volunteers have worked so hard, sometimes in extreme weather, to keep up with the need and no one has held back effort.

We know that families are depending on us for their most basic needs, and we don’t take that lightly.

We’ve recently had an increase in COVID-19 positive families coming to us for food. We were already taking the utmost precautions in all interactions between people. Masks are required, and we’re doing our best to maintain six feet of distance. We’re offering masks to any family who needs them as they enter our parking lot. We’ve also worked with Loudoun County to provide groceries that county employees can deliver through medical referrals for COVID positive households. These efforts have required extensive planning and some really long hours. We also can’t discount the personal risk that our staff and volunteers are taking.

All this has drawn our already tight community of staff, volunteers and supporters even closer together. We appreciate one another’s efforts even more, and we’re deeply grateful for all those who are showing up and standing up for the most vulnerable among us.  Thank you to everyone who is helping us do this work. It’s never been more important.

A marathon AND a sprint….

Loudoun Hunger Relief is moving forward to meet the growing need. Every day brings a new challenge. The need for services is growing just at the time that we can’t allow volunteers in the building. We know this is a marathon, but we’re also having to accelerate at a sprinter’s pace to meet the demand for services.

Market Room use during COVID-19 crisis

Market Room before COVID-19 crisis

Market Room use during COVID-19 crisisWe planned for this crisis, and our emergency planning has served us well.  We’ve kept pace so far, and we’re working to make sure we can keep it up in the weeks (hopefully not months!) to come.

Our service numbers are up 50% in just three weeks. So many seeking services are newly unemployed–it’s truly heartbreaking. We expect that our service numbers will be up again this week. Each “number” is a family with a job loss or reduction in hours to cope with. We hurt for each of them and for our community.

On the bright side, we live in an incredibly generous place and donors have been helping us keep this ship moving forward. So many have supplied food and monetary donations, as well as sent lovely encouraging notes via email, snail mail or social media.

We thank everyone for the support, and the positive messages! Keep it coming!

 

It’s a lot….

In the last two weeks, nearly 1000 donors have provided money, food, or other material assistance to us as we geared up our operations for the need we know is to come. It’s a lot.

Today, our phones were ringing way more than usual for a Thursday morning, as many people in our area are facing their first week with no paycheck. People are worried about how they will take care of their families. It’s a lot to think and worry about.

We are humbled by the outpouring of support. We are equally humbled by the grace of those we serve. It’s a lot to take in.

The pace of change, the underlying anxiety, the generosity, the strength of spirit; it’s all a lot. We are grateful to live in such an amazing community, and grateful for the support we’re receiving. And it’s a lot!

The Six-Foot Shuffle…

We have had to make changes to our operations to comply with all CDC guidelines. We’re calling it the six-foot shuffle. We will probably have to make further adjustment as the CDC comes out with new information in the days to come, so please bear with us as we pivot. There’s plenty that has changed inside the pantry, but here’s what the public needs to know:

  1. We have changed our food donation procedures. Donors are asked to drop their donations off in a marked bin in the parking lot, or for fragile items, on a table next to the donation bin. For everyone’s safety we are maintaining six feet of distance between people. For this reason, we are currently unable to offer receipts for food donation. Staff cannot assist in unloading donor vehicles. We aren’t being rude, we’re just following the guidelines for public safety and social distancing. We’re asking donors who are unable to unload their own vehicles to please hold their donations for a happier day to come.
  2. We have suspended our volunteer program. There was no way to continue and still meet CDC distancing guidelines.
  3. We have changed our service delivery procedures. After careful consideration, we have moved to an all appointment service model effective March 23, 2020 and until further notice. Families and individuals should phone 703-777-5911 to make an appointment to pick up food.

Our hours of service have not changed, but we are asking all who need food to call to make an appointment so that we can maintain a proper number of people and safe social distancing at all times. We have asked that people arrive at their appointment times, and remain in their cars to be served.

We are minimizing person to person contact by collecting needed information from families in need of food by phone at the time they make their appointment.

We are further minimizing person to person contact by delivering pre-packed grocery orders curbside. This eliminates our ability to customize grocery orders unless there is a serious reason, such as a severe allergy.

Getting through today, preparing for tomorrow

It’s been a busy Monday at Loudoun Hunger Relief. We spent Sunday reviewing CDC social distancing guidelines, and we knew that the pantry is just too small to provide enough space for everyone to be inside safely. We made the hard choice to suspend our volunteer program, and we began to bring groceries to our families in need outside. We are doing our best to provide what people need while minimizing risk to everyone.

We had help from so many today! 7×24 Exchange, an association of data center service providing companies, arrived in the chill of the morning and packed 400 bags of emergency groceries in 2 hours. County employees from the Department of Parks and Recreation as well as from the Department of Family Services and the Voter Registration Office came to help pack another 600+ bags. It was an amazing, open air, socially distant, community supporting operation!  JK Moving came to the rescue, loaning us a truck and driver for a food pick up we didn’t have the staffing to make. Wegmans helped with heavily discounted cereal for our bag packs.

Today we provided food services to families in need at both our Leesburg pantry and our Sterling Mobile Market service location.

We provided bags of shelf-stable groceries for emergency preparedness to local first responders. We had bags ready early in the day for the Department of Parks and Recreation to provide to the seniors usually served in their centers. Bags got delivered to William Watters House in Sterling and arrived at Madison House in Leesburg (senior low-income housing). Tomorrow morning, Loudoun County Public Schools will pick up emergency family grocery bags to travel with them on the buses delivering breakfast and lunch to children and families throughout the LCPS system.

All in all today, our teams packed over 1000 bags and delivered or shared with other agencies nearly 700 bags. We’ll be at it again tomorrow morning, when we open for service at 8:30.

This is a challenging time for everyone. We are blessed to have the resources of our community and local government partners backing us as we strive to help low-income families and older adults get through today and prepare for tomorrow.