Fast forward to 8:30 a.m. on Saturday morning. The Cora Kelly Recreation Center looks like a 7-11 convenience store without the Slurpee machine. Huge plastic bags of bread are piled into one corner. Long folding tables stagger under the weight of boxes of applesauce, tuna, soup, bread and eggs. And 50 volunteers from Alexandria Country Day School, Alexandria Jaycees, Bishop Ireton High School, Burgundy Farm School, Howard University, One Brick, St. Rita Parish and other ALIVE volunteers have two hours to tear open the boxes and sort the mountains of food into grocery bags.
I joined the group of volunteers who stacked and bagged in relative comfort inside the center. The other half of the volunteer army waited for another delivery truck from the CAFB outside as the snow flurries rapidly escalated into a snowstorm. When the truck finally arrived, the volunteers emptied the boxes of food onto the asphalt and then refilled them with frozen meat, carrots, soup, potatoes and Hershey candy bars. (See? Chocolate really is a staple!)
At 10:30 a.m. the food distribution began. Although the recreation center’s narrow hallway was lined two deep with people waiting for help (the H1N1 vaccine was another free service that day), the operation went fairly smoothly. The recipients’ names were checked against lists from social service agencies, then they lined up as we handed them their groceries. Those of us that weren’t already outside with the produce and meat put our coats on to help carry the bags for those who needed help.
ALIVE received 423,046 pounds of food from the CAFB last year (one pound of food equals one meal). ALIVE pays a shared maintenance fee of 12 cents per pound of food from the CAFB. All produce is free, as is any surplus commodity from the United States Department of Agriculture, who partners with the CAFB.
The need for food is increasing. Ken Nauser, ALIVE Executive Director, budgeted about $70,000 for all of the ALIVE food programs last year. He’s spending the same dollar amount this year, and hoping that demand stabilizes or decreases.
Don’t bet on it. Nauser said 840 households, or over 3,000 individuals, were served at all three Alexandria locations in December, and that was a 40 percent increase from a year ago. Fifty-seven of the 300 families at the Cora Kelly Recreation Center were there for the first time.
The volunteer support is critical for ALIVE’s program to work. So is the money, for both ALIVE and the CAFB. Over half of the CAFB‘s funds come from individual donors. The remaining funds come from donations by the JBG Companies, Bank of America, World Bank, Wachovia Wells Fargo, Capital One, the Giant Food Foundation, Kaiser Foundation and the Philip L. Graham Fund. Finally, CAFB’s annual Blue Jeans Ball has brought in over $500,000 since it began in 2004, and the Stuff a Truck drive brings in over $75,000 annually.