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.

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.

COVID-19 Preparedness at Loudoun Hunger Relief

Thank you for your support of the work we do at Loudoun Hunger Relief, helping the most vulnerable among us to have sufficient, nutritious food.
We’d like to take a few minutes of your time to update you on what we’ve done to be prepared as an organization and to prepare the people we serve for impacts of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19).
As a leader in Loudoun’s emergency food system, we have already begun providing the families we serve with an extra shelf-stable bag of food to help keep their kitchens stocked. We’re making sure we have food on hand at the pantry in anticipation of the potential need for the next several weeks. We’re also making sure that we can staff the pantry and get the food to those who need it.
We are also working closely with our County government and nonprofit partners to minimize the impact of COVID-19 on those we serve, and those who may need food if our region is heavily impacted.
So keep washing your hands, keep doing what you can to reduce risk of disease transmission, and keep thinking positive. We appreciate your continued support of our neighbors in need and we will call on our donors when needed in the coming weeks.

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.

Today’s Normal

It’s Tuesday at LHR and we’re living “today’s normal” every day. We are profoundly grateful to so many people who are helping us with food or financial donations. One donor let us know he is contributing $50 a day to LHR for every day he is forced to work from home. Many have phoned us to see what we need, and many others have sent generously from our Amazon wish list.

A typical Tuesday has appointment based service hours in the morning and again in the evening. On a typical Tuesday, we serve about 50 families total. Today, we served 75. This was not a typical Tuesday.<–!more–>

We are proud that our staff of eight people, along with help from the Loudoun County Department of Parks and Recreation personnel, has managed to keep up with the demand for emergency food. We are adhering to CDC guidelines to have no more than 10 people in any one place, and to have them at least three feet apart. This slows down our operations, but the safety of everyone is the first concern.

There is much to do to keep up with demand, and we are doing it while adding all the extra steps it takes to sanitize, keep the shelves stocked, and pack emergency orders.

We have shifted our service completely to the outdoors, and we give thanks daily for the good weather we’ve had. We have also shifted completely to pre-packed bags. This speeds service, and provides very a very similar selection of groceries to every family. Traditionally, we have packed groceries to order, honoring special requests where possible. In today’s normal, we don’t have the variety of food we normally would, and we’re doing our best to help everyone get through this crisis.

We adjust things every day to be faster, better, more efficient and more caring. When we make mistakes, and we do, we apologize, fix them and move onward.

We feel ready for tomorrow, in “today’s normal”.

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.