Letter to the Editor: ALIVE! Thanks Alexandria for Overwhelming Response

The following Letter to the Editor was written by Jennifer Ayers, the executive director of ALIVE!

A few weeks ago, like many, I wondered if coronavirus was just another bad case of the flu. Would it just pass?

We’ve all learned it’s much more serious than that. I could not have imagined that I would find myself working extensive hours (from home, mostly, in between taking care of two young children and one nervous beagle mix) and find myself cold calling my counterpart in New Rochelle, New York, because I saw a news clip on CNN of them in action doing a drive-thru-food distribution, and wondering how they did it so that if I had to, we could find a way to replicate it here in Alexandria.

Little did we know, we would be doing not just one, but now four drive-thru mass food distributions within two weeks and find ourselves figuring out supply chain issues. Yet here we are and, believe it or not, I’m not as overwhelmed by the problem and what lies ahead as I am by the love and support I am finding from the people of Alexandria, the place I’ve called home for 20 years and the organization I’m proud to lead.

We’ve served about 8,000 people, equating to more than 40,000 meal equivalents over the course of both drive thru distributions.

Many people know ALIVE! as the local organization that provides food to people in need, and indeed ALIVE! does provide food to people in need. We regularly provide food to local pantries, weekend bags to kids at schools, run the Last Saturday Food Distribution, provide groceries to homebound individuals, and more. ALIVE! also helps individuals with financial support when they have trouble paying rent, utilities, medical bills and meeting other basic expenses, and we continue to offer transitional housing at our ALIVE! House for women and their families.

Since the coronavirus outbreak we have handed out more food than ever, worked hand-in-hand with the City of Alexandria to prepare food for people in quarantine, increased the number of home delivery clients, provided food to people moving from shelters to hotels, organized four mass food distributions, and provided bagged food to many nonprofits and others. We are moving food out at triple the rate we normally do, which requires more volunteers with the added challenge of keeping more social distance between them. Everything has changed over the past few weeks from the amount of people we serve to how we operate on a daily basis. The hardest part has been not being able to take people up on offers of food donations- here’s why- we want to ensure people stay safe and are not making unessential trips outside and to the grocery store.

For the same reasons, with the arrival of coronavirus we’ve had to shutter three of our other essential programs including our furniture and housewares program and our Child Development Center. Even though they are closed, we are still trying to support the people who depend on these critical services. The children who normally come to our year-round, full-time, nationally accredited child center are home with parents who continue working hard to make ends meet.

These are tough times, and our office located right above our preschool is quiet without the sound of children singing, learning and playing. And although people are still waiting for much-needed furniture, it is unsafe for us to collect or deliver. But here is the good news — Please hang on to your donations until it’s safe for more human contact. Our teachers are meeting regularly and our family support specialist is in touch with families to check in on them and see how they are doing.

While we know the immediate need for assistance with food and rent and bills will significantly increase in the months to come, even for some who have never had to face financial challenges before, and while we know the recovery will be long, we also know through our experience over the last four weeks that there is great promise and great hope in our Alexandria community.

Like I said before, I am overwhelmed by the amazing support from my fellow Alexandrians. ALIVE! was founded as an interfaith organization in 1969- by people who believed that they could help. Today, it is much bigger and larger than the 45 congregations comprising its membership and expands to nearly every nook and cranny of our city.

In the last four weeks, ALIVE! has realized support in many ways, from an overabundance of volunteers — people willing to risk exposure to pathogens that are not well understood — to help neighbors, to city departments coming together to coordinate food delivery to people in need in new and creative ways, and to local businesses, restaurants, associations, and individuals stepping up to offer their services, their food, their trucks, their talents and their financial resources to ALIVE! to provide aid and relief to people who need it the most.

The list of people and organizations is too large to write all down here, but I’ve tried my best to remember as many as I could, and I invite you to view our social media pages so that you can see what we’re doing in real-time.

It should be known somewhere in this difficult time, that in Alexandria through ALIVE! people are trying to do their best to help one another and that together we are rooted in community. We invite you to stand with us to help each other.

If you would like to volunteer, we encourage you to visit Volunteer Alexandria and search for ALIVE! volunteer opportunities. We also invite you to make a financial contribution to support the work we are doing. We will use your funds to support the program you designate.

Right now, we need the most support for food and for emergency financial support, but certainly your gifts for any of our programs are welcome. Like many other organizations, we had to postpone a major fundraiser this year and are uncertain if we will recover from that financial loss. You can contribute to ALIVE! and others helping our great city during Alexandria’s Day of Giving Spring2ACTion on April 15.

We also invite you to find a peaceful moment and share that with someone.

We are working remotely but may be reached at , [email protected] or call 703-837-9300 or 703-837-9321.

Many thanks to:

  • All of our amazing volunteers
  • ACT for Alexandria
  • Affordable Signs and Banner
  • Alexandria Department of Community and Human Services
  • Alexandria City Manager’s Office
  • Alexandria Department of Parks and Recreation and Cultural Activities
  • Alexandria Department of Transportation and Environmental Services
  • Alexandria City Public Schools
  • Alexandria Police Department
  • Alexandria Sheriff’s Department
  • Alexandria Counts (Census)
  • Caring Transitions
  • Capital Area Food Bank
  • Del Ray Famers Market
  • Elizabeth’s Counter’s Rob Krupicka
  • Fruitful Planet
  • Tom Fulham
  • Hunger Free Alexandria
  • Jim Karlson
  • Lancaster Foods, LLC
  • Charlotte Martinsson
  • Pat Miller
  • Minuteman Press Alexandria
  • Old Blue BBQ
  • Ann Patterson, ALIVE! Food Program Manager
  • Gayle Reuter
  • Pedro Rivera, ALIVE! Food Program
  • Regal Cinema Potomac Yard
  • Salvation Army Alexandria
  • United Fresh Produce Association
  • Volunteer Alexandria
  • Jen Walker Team
  • Your Dog’s Best Friend occasionally publishes thoughtful letters to the editor about issues of local interest. To submit a letter to the editor for consideration, please email it to [email protected]. Letters may be edited for content and brevity, at our discretion.

Photo via ALIVE!/Facebook