The Season of Giving

Our neighbors still need our help.

For the United States of America, 2017 has been a year like no other. Disaster after disaster struck, from one end of the country to the other, and even beyond its shorelines. Hurricanes, fire, floods, even earthquakes that hit our neighbors to the south.

The “six degrees of separation” theory was definitely in evidence. Mention Hurricane Harvey, or talk about memories of vacations in Key West or Puerto Rico before they, too, were devastated by winds and water, or have a glass of cabernet from California with friends, and somebody will tell you of a friend or a family member, or even themselves, who have experienced the destruction, the upheaval, or even the loss of life that accompanied these events. Perhaps that line of connection was the reason that so many pitched in and donated a lot, or a little, whatever they could. Food, water, clothes, money, school supplies, or even their own time and physical labor were given unselfishly to the victims of these disasters, who so needed, and who so many still need, our assistance.

ODDLY, that line of connection seems to blur when we look into our own “backyard.” Maybe it’s because there are no large-font headlines to announce the needs of our Northern Virginia neighbors. There is no one single event to blame. Maybe it’s because when it’s the family next door, that very proximity makes those in need reluctant to let us see their struggle, and us, sometimes less willing to acknowledge that there could be a need so great right beside us.

Whatever the reasons, the needs of our local neighbors are just as great, and our local government agencies and nonprofits hope that the community will come to their aid as well, especially during the traditional “Season of Giving.”

“The disasters that have impacted our nation are terrible and devastating. They need our attention and assistance,” says Lisa Groves, Executive Director of nonprofit Herndon-Reston FISH (Friendly Instant Sympathetic Help), “yet we cannot forget that we still have households struggling in our local communities. We need to address their personal crises while we do our part to support other needs in our nation.”

Groves shared with the Connection just a few of the stories that accompanied requests for assistance, from both private and public partner referrals, and directly from some of those in need. (Details from the emailed requests have been edited to protect the privacy of the clients, but much is exactly as written.)

  • “I am a single mother. I do work, but a few weeks ago I got sick and was hospitalized. I lost time off from work and fell behind on my rent. Can someone please help? I do not want to lose my apartment, especially because of my kids.”

  • “In dire straights. I have sold almost everything, used all my savings, exhausted everyone to borrow from. I have never had this. I don’t have anywhere to go…no gas for the car, no money for medication.”

  • “Homeless and raising daughters in this area. I found a place, but need some financial assistance if possible, just to get started again.”

  • Fairfax County Police Department, Victim Services Section sent in a request for a family where the mother had just obtained full emergency custody of her two children. On her behalf, FC Victim Services was seeking funds to replace the items for the family that they could not access. The mother had also fallen behind on essential bills, as she was using that money to purchase food and basic necessities for her family.

  • A social worker with the Fairfax County Services for Older Adults asked for assistance for a homebound client who is falling further and further behind on rent and other bills, as she struggles to pay medical bills and afford more medical testing. “She is even having trouble paying for groceries.”

THESE ARE JUST a few of the many requests – and heart-breaking stories – that FISH juggle to respond to, especially since donations have been slower to come in this year, according to Groves. “We have many wonderful donors, like the employees at CDW, who gave thousands of dollars in food and gift cards, the employees of Sallie Mae who prepare ready-to-distribute food packs, and the Cub Scouts who go collecting in Reston neighborhoods. Grocery stores like Safeway South Lakes and Giant Franklin Farm are also generous partners,” she said, “donating tons of canned vegetables and holding donation campaigns, but it’s going to take everyone pitching in, even just a little, to help all those who need it.”

With so many in need of the basics that FISH and other agencies and nonprofits in the area do their best to provide, it’s easy to forget that particularly in this season the struggle for those less fortunate is made more difficult when they may not be able to share in the “luxuries” of holiday meals and gifts.

“Everything is so pretty,” said a client of the Embry Rucker Shelter in Reston. “Commercials with everyone getting lots of presents. A big Thanksgiving meal. I am happy for those people, but it makes me sadder that I can’t give that to my family.”

THANKFULLY, a number of area organizations are trying to lessen that sadness with Thanksgiving meal kits and Christmas presents for children and their parents. Nonprofit Cornerstones of Reston distributes Thanksgiving meal baskets each year and organizes a “Gifts for Kids” program.

LINK, Inc. also provides essential items to those in need, all year long. This year, a record number of families signed up for help during the holidays – 887 families and 4628 individuals. The LINK website, at www.linkagainsthunger.org is still looking for donations of food, new or gently used coats and winter clothing, new toys, and people to help distribute for the Christmas programs.

These are just a few of the agencies and organizations – many staffed by volunteers – that are doing their best to brighten the holiday season for our Northern Virginia neighbors in need. The Connection ran a longer list in the Nov. 9-15 editions and will re-run the list after Thanksgiving. The list is certainly not all-inclusive. If you’re looking to get in on the giving action, there are more agencies and nonprofits out there, and many faith-based communities have special holiday season campaigns, as well.

As Lisa Groves of FISH suggested, donations don’t have to be grand gestures, since “every little bit helps a lot.” Grocery store donation events, like GIANT of Fox Mill’s “Buy a Pie for $3.99” as a holiday meal donation, cost little and don’t require any special shopping activity or drop-off of goods. Sharing can even be a fun family event if you take one of the $5 Saturdays in December Reston Town Center carriage ride where proceeds benefit local charities. Even your time is valuable, if you can donate some to a distribution effort.

2017 was a tough year, but millions of people, including thousands here in Northern Virginia, generously reached out across the country and even the globe to lessen the pain and the want of others. For organizations like FISH, LINK, Cornerstones, and others, their hope is that in this “Season of Giving” area residents will reach out one more time, a little closer to home.

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