The month of November brought historically off-the-charts numbers of families to seek support from the Arlington Food Assistance Center, and the organization’s top staff member plans to ask the county government to help meet the sustained need.
An all-time high of 2,553 families were served by AFAC the week ending Nov. 23, and the month saw an average of 2,230 families each week, executive director Charlie Meng said at the Dec. 3 meeting of the Kiwanis Club of Arlington.
The organization also saw an all-time high of 3,481 families that had received referrals from the county government’s Department of Human Services, making them eligible for food services – although not all families with referrals use AFAC’s services every week.
Meng said the figures represent a “trifecta” suggesting that economic conditions continue to be sour for those in need across Arlington.
And the increase in use of AFAC’s services is having an impact of the food center’s bottom line.
“We are committed at AFAC to never turn away anyone – we’re there to help,” Meng said, pointing to the $5.6 million in cash, donated food and volunteer efforts that are needed run the facility.
AFAC receives no federal or state funds, but it does receive support from the county government – an anticipated $342,925 in the current fiscal year, down from $365,400 a year before and representing 6.1 percent of the organization’s annual costs.
Meng plans to ask County Board members to increase that to $500,000 in the fiscal year that begins in July, and is beginning to beat the drums for community support for a funding level that is “critical to AFAC’s ability to help the needy in our community.”
Meng asked Kiwanians, as he will ask other groups, to make the case to elected officials. “Just say to them that AFAC is worth supporting – I don’t think you will find a better investment in Arlington,” he said.
For Paul Ferguson, a former County Board member who currently serves as clerk of the Circuit Court, support for AFAC seems a no-brainer.
“It truly is helping people who live in Arlington,” he said.
At the Dec. 3 meeting, the Kiwanis Club presented AFAC with a $4,500 donation, which will be used to support an initiative in conjunction with the Arlington-Alexandria Coalition for the Homeless to provide nutrition education to young people.
“Childhood obesity is clearly related to the lack of sufficient healthy food,” Meng said, pointing to low-cost alternatives like macaroni and cheese that children in lower-income households often receive.
“It’s filling, it’s tasty, but it’s all fat, sugar and salt,” he said.