AFAC celebrates renovation of warehouse space

U.S. Sen. Mark Warner, center, speaks with Victor Bonomi of Tech-24 Construction and Jeffrey Bollman, chair of the Arlington Food Assistance Center board of directors, at the March 13, 2018, unveiling of the renovated AFAC warehouse space.

Renovation and expansion of the Arlington Food Assistance Center’s warehouse space in the Four Mile Run corridor will position the organization to meet the social-safety-net needs of its clients, supporters of the organization said at an unveiling of the new space on March 13.

“In a few short weeks, this warehouse will come to life – 100,000 pounds of food will be sorted each week,” AFAC executive director Charles Meng said at a celebration marking the completion of construction and start of a capital campaign to raise the $1 million that remains outstanding of the $1.8 million construction cost.

The building “has been ripped apart and rebuilt,” Meng said.

Despite horror stories that often are told of construction and renovation projects, Meng said this effort – a collaboration between Inscape Studio as architect and Tech-24 Construction as contractor – moved along without significant teething pains.

“This was a great project from beginning to end,” he said, praising the attention to detail and craftsmanship.

“It really will help all of the families who come through the doors,” Meng said.

Founded 30 years ago in the basement of Clarendon Presbyterian Church with the support of six local religious congregations, AFAC has grown to serve nearly 2,400 families per week through 18 distribution sites across the county. By the end of this year, the organization will have hosted more than 2.25 million visits to its pantries.

Rev. David Ensign, pastor at Clarendon Presbyterian, said AFAC’s efforts to meet the needs of those without adequate food supplies require a great deal of collaboration.

“The board, the staff, the volunteers, the financial contributors – together, we make a neighborhood,” Ensign said, with all working “for a world in which everyone has enough to eat.”

AFAC moved into the South Nelson Street space in 1996. After more than a decade as a renter, the organization purchased the building in 2008 and proceeded to pay off the mortgage within a few years, but held off on a major refurbishment until now.

Receiving no federal or state funding and with county-government support totaling just 8 percent of its budget, AFAC relies on individuals, organizations and businesses to fund its operations.

“It’s kind of the best of the Arlington Way, but it’s also the best of the American Way – it exemplifies the American spirit,” said U.S. Sen. Mark Warner (D-Va.), who attended the March 13 event.

“In a country as wealthy as ours, no one should not have access to healthy, quality food,” said Warner.

The senator’s participation was more than just a drive-by photo-op stop. Warner has supported the organization by donating some of the proceeds of a Thanksgiving-time gathering he hosts each November.

“Mark has been a friend of AFAC and a donor for many years,” said Meng, praising him as “a beacon of sanity, a statesman when we need many more.”

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To support fund-raising efforts, AFAC will host its second annual “Shining a Light on Hunger” fund-raiser on April 19 at Army Navy Country Club. Former Virginia First Lady Dorothy McAuliffe will be the featured guest.

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