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DCHS Director Says Coronavirus Highlights Preexisting Food Insecurities in Alexandria

Kate Garvey, Director of the Alexandria Department of Community and Human Services, says COVID-19 has helped lay bare existing islands of food insecurity in the city.

As her department has worked extensively with community partners like ALIVE! for food distribution, Garvey said the pandemic emphasizes a growing need.

“We have a sense of urgency and have to look at the immediate need,” Garvey said, “[but] the disproportionate impact shows us the severity of the problem and how we have to look at this going forward.”

Garvey said programs like support for housing and food assistance aren’t isolated, but inter-dependent.

“You never expect something of this nature, but there are things we can learn from it and how vulnerable so many people are,” Garvey said. “The same individuals are so negatively impacted. It’s not separate projects… food, rent, etc. It’s all together to support families across Alexandria.”

Garvey was one of three department heads who put forward plans earlier this week to address dire community needs like rent assistance and helping local businesses stay afloat.

The Food Security Plan proposed by the Department of Community and Human Services includes allocating $532,325 in CARES act funding — which must be used directly on coronavirus response programs — on ensuring those in areas hardest hit by the coronavirus pandemic have access to food and essential supplies.

Programs include:

  • Large scale food distributions (2 per month): 8,000 people served, the program costs $56,000 monthly
  • Pop-up distributions in impacted neighborhoods/apartment complexes: 1000 people served monthly, the program costs $7,000
  • World Central Kitchen service weekly: 1000 served monthly, 250 per week, with a program cost of $7,000 monthly
  • Support to 13 food pantries: supports 1,500 households monthly and the program costs $14,000
  • Home delivery of 14 frozen meals for self-isolating older adults: 100 people served weekly with a program cost of $26,000 monthly
  • Home delivery to individuals and families in ARHA, AHDC housing and non-profit programs: 1,125 people served monthly, the program costs $12,625
  • Serving households under quarantine: 25 households served and 20 in reserve with a program cost of $3,700 monthly
  • Grocery gift card distribution: 1,000 families with $400 per family for a cost of $400,000 monthly

Garvey said the gift card distribution, by far the largest cost in the plan, is essential as one that allows families in need to give them the independence to prioritize and assess their own needs.

World Central Kitchen’s new program runs every Thursday, alternating between the parking lot at Casa Chirilagua (4109 Mount Vernon Avenue) and William Ramsay Elementary School (5700 Sanger Avenue). There, the Department of Community and Human Services and community partners like ALIVE! to distribute hot meals and groceries for future meals.

“With these large scale food distributions, we’re able to reach a lot of people, but we want to make sure we’re not making people come out(side) too much,” Garvey said. “ALIVE! has really created an atmosphere where there is a lot of focus on health practices. We’re minimizing the health risk.”

In general, Garvey was effusive in praise for non-profits around Alexandria and other community partners who have stepped up to help during the pandemic.

“It’s amazing how generous residents have been and in donating things,” she said. “It’s really taking all of us to respond and we’re lucky how generous and thoughtful people have been.”

Photo via ALIVE!/Facebook

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