Get Out and Give Back: Fast Food with the Assistance League of Northern Virginia

by WL Author

So much good is done in so little time when preparing weekend food bags for hungry kids.
By Jane Hess Collins

Mary Ann Cadin, Linda Shilts and Daniel Bennion (using an employee volunteer day from America Online) get ready to load supersized bags full of weekend food kits into the van for delivery to area schools.

I just helped pack weekend food bags for over 600 hungry kids in an hour. That’s all the time it took for about 20 of us volunteers supporting the Assistance League of Northern Virginia’s Weekend Food for Kids” program. In just 60 minutes we hauled in boxes of food that had filled up the entire back of a van, tore off the plastic and cardboard, dumped the Ramen noodles, pudding, tuna, granola bars, etc. into plastic laundry baskets lined up on cafeteria tables, then started the assembly line to fill hundreds of clear plastic bags with food. Each bag was then placed in gigantic paper bags destined for one of three area schools, where 25 percent of the kids qualify for free or reduced lunches.

The packing party started at 9:30 a.m. and I expected it to last three hours. When the last paper bag, brimming with weekend treats, was packed back into the van for delivery to the schools, the extra two hours of free time were a bonus.

It also was an opportunity to remember how little time it takes to do so much good. Sure, it took some time to raise the funds and buy the food, but all things considered, it’s just a only blip of time out in someone’s day.

Seriously, an hour? I’ve taking longer than that to finish a cup of coffee.

As I listened in to the friendly chatter among the volunteers manning the two assembly lines, it seemed to be the best of everything good about a community. The age range among them spanned about 50 years, and they talked of impending weddings, new friendships and local news. It was small, intimate and very much needed- just the kind of project my mom back in Ohio would like. Maybe I can convince her to start something like this in my hometown. There has to be hungry kids there, too.

With one in six kids at risk of hunger in Fairfax County and one in three kids at risk of hunger in the District according to a recent report by the Capital Area Food Bank, these neighborly gatherings to nourish kids over the weekend are popping up like dandelions. One group in Reston, who met on Tuesdays in a friend’s basement, recently found a corporate sponsor. Now the company employees, on company time, assemble the weekend food kits for hundreds of local kids in the Reston area. The company gets good public relations, the kids get nutritious food and the community gets stronger. Everyone wins.

Last Friday Billy Shore, executive director of Share Our Strength, spoke to 300 or so business and philanthropy leaders as part of the Spring for Alexandria event. Shore shared his experience that the most difficult challenge in solving a social issue is usually the delivery system. That’s where these community gatherings can really help.

The Assistance League of Northern Virginia is gearing up for their Operation School Bell Weekend Food for Kids event on May 19 at the Sully Government Center in Chantilly. They plan to pack over 1,100 bags of food for kids in three local elementary schools. Come on out to help.

It will only take an hour.

Jane Hess Collins helps and encourages people to give back through her writing, speaking, coaching and workshops. You can follow Get Out and Give Back on Facebook and Twitter.

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