Working to address food insecurity and social needs in Northern Virginia
Loudoun Hunger Relief (LHR) in Northern Virginia helps to assuage food insecurity in Loudoun County, and provides guidance to those navigating the network of social services in the area. Particularly during the COVID-19 pandemic, the need for a reliable and high-quality source of food is of paramount importance. LHR offers a variety of avenues for community members to receive food, requiring only proof of residence in the county.
Offering nutritious meals and more in Loudoun County
LHR provides families with enough ingredients to provide three healthy meals for three days, for each family member; this benefit is available up to twice per month. The group has also partnered with Loudoun County Public Schools to distribute shelf-stable meal bags alongside the school breakfasts and lunches being delivered into neighborhoods via school buses. LHR is spreading awareness of their offerings by setting up auxiliary food distribution sites and pop-ups within the community.
All of these activities require reliable transportation and refrigerated vehicles. Microsoft recently donated to LHR to help them get a new van up and running after their 15-year old one died in the midst of the pandemic. Trish McNeal, Loudoun Hunger Relief’s Development Director, says, “That thing’s been in motion from the day that we purchased it because we needed it so badly to move food around. It’s crucial for us to have refrigerated vehicles so we can ensure food safety from the time of pick up to the time the food enters the family’s car. The vehicle is really important for us to meet the need. It’s moving food every single day from people who can give it to people who need it.”
Even in Loudoun County, a relatively affluent community, plenty of people are just one paycheck away from needing assistance with bills and everyday necessities. This need has become especially apparent with events like the federal shutdown in 2019 (Loudoun County is home to many government employees) and layoffs associated with COVID-19. During the shutdown, demand for LHR’s services increased 10 percent, according to McNeal, while demand for services has increased 225 percent during the pandemic.
Connecting citizens to social supports in the community
LHR works to provide nutritious meals to families that need them, specifically offering whole, fresh foods and a variety of choices to meet dietary needs and preferences. Microsoft previously donated to help LHR purchase chicken, a protein that serves many families’ needs, even those with religious dietary guidelines. But LHR’s work doesn’t end with the provisioning of food. McNeal explains, “When families find themselves in need of help, we can’t pay their rent, we can’t pay their utilities. But we can give them food and then provide referrals to other agencies that can help with rent, utilities, car repairs, or health concerns.”
The knowledge and resources that LHR provides are helpful as families navigate difficult situations. According to McNeal, “Being poor in America is very time consuming. You go somewhere for your rental assistance, go to another location for your medical care. Go to a third location for utility assistance or clothing assistance. It is a hard, hard road, never mind the jobs you’re working.” But the thanks that the organization receives help make it worthwhile. One recent visitor to LHR summed up their gratitude. “When we came to you, you made us feel like neighbors. I want to thank everyone: all of the staff, all of the volunteers, and I want you to thank your donors for me. Thanks to the people who gave food. Thank the people who gave money. I want to make sure we thank everybody. We’re going to get to the other side because you’re helping us.”