ALEXANDRIA, Va. (WDVM) — A Fairfax County community services employee got a request from a family that snowballed into an effort that’s served 620 people to date. A mother and father had both tested positive for COVID-19 and were wondering how they’d feed their two kids without infecting others. The employee approached United Community’s food pantry and asked if he could deliver food to the family. That’s when Deputy Executive Director Deborah Halla asked, “What about all the other families that are out there?”

United Community, which serves residents in the Mount Vernon and Alexandria areas of Fairfax County, has partnered with Neighborhood Health to provide both medical and food services to those infected with the coronavirus. Neighborhood Health is a federally qualified health center in Northern Virginia that provides health services to about 30,000 patients in the area; including COVID testing and contact tracing. Its staff members also connect infected patients with the resources to self isolate and quarantine. 

“One of the things in areas like this that we know is that our patients are already really vulnerable and they’re going to go out if they’re not able to pay their bills or if they’re in need of food,” said Neighborhood Health Director of Behavioral Health Services Courtney Riggle-van Schagen. 

United Community is making sure they have enough to eat while they do. 

Halla says United Community’s food pantry is just one segment of its resources; however, the organization has had to pull resources and volunteers from other departments to meet the “unbelievably dramatic” increase in need. 

Every Thursday, United Community volunteer Suzy Coffey stuffs boxes with dry goods, fresh produce, eggs, frozen meets, juices, and disinfectant products. She says she’s seen an increase in new faces. In April, 41.35 percent of United Community’s clients were new (meaning they were not an existing United Community client before March 1, 2020). In April 2019, only 6.35 percent of United Community’s clients were new. 

“For some of our most vulnerable residents, they depend on public transportation and they need to bring their children with them a lot of time when they come to get food – they don’t have someone to watch their children,” Hall said. “And because of those reasons we realized we couldn’t expect those individuals to have to come to us – we were going to have to figure out a way to get to them.” 

Riggle-van Schagen says direct partnerships are the best way to put organizations’ resources to good use. “In situations when there’s a lot of economic vulnerability in communities, organizations like our organizations look to other community agencies. And that benefits the healthcare system, the patients, [and] food banks because we’re able to utilize resources a lot more effectively.”