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Bishop visits and blesses new Catholic Charities food pantry in Alexandria

Sister Aniliza Juan’s days of hauling boxes up from a cramped basement to offer food to those in need are over.

The new food pantry at 4725 Eisenhower Avenue opened on Nov. 1, giving Catholic Charities of the Diocese of Arlington a much larger, better-equipped facility to better provide for Alexandrians struggling to get by.

Earlier today, Bishop Michael Francis Burbidge visited the new facility to offer a blessing.

“It is here in this place that we reflect our love for God by serving his beloved children, our brothers and sisters,” said Burbidge. “Those who come through these doors experience and encounter the compassion of Christ, but all those who work here and volunteer here see the face of Christ in our brothers and sisters who are poor and needy.”

The pantry is open two days a week, but staff said they can extend the hours if they receive more volunteer support.

Juan, volunteer coordinator for the Catholic Charities Alexandria Food Pantry, said since the start of November and throughout December, the food pantry has been busier than ever.

“The price of commodities is getting higher,” Juan said. “Some of our people are newly arrived and trying to settle, but they cannot get a job right away.”

Juan said some work three jobs but can’t afford rent in the area.

In the third week of December, Juan said the food pantry served 150 families — a new record for the pantry, which normally serves around 80-120 families in that same week each year.

For the first week of January, the pantry has served 95 families, higher than the usual 60 families for the same timeframe.

An annual report showed that Catholic Charities of the Diocese of Arlington provided $8.2 million in support, from $3.4 million in food assistance to $900,000 in rental assistance.

St. Lucy Project, which runs the pantry, fulfilled more than 59,000 food requests over the last year and distributed $2.2 million in food. Christ House in Old Town distributed 17,627 free meals, a 42% increase over 2022 figures, a diocese representative said.

“The good news is that there is a more spacious place to serve even more people,” Burbidge said. “But the sad reality is the need is just as great too.”

The new pantry is a significantly larger space than the previous location in the basement of Christ House in Old Town. Volunteers there had to retrieve food from a cramped, narrow basement with a low ceiling. At the new location, those in need can grab a shopping cart and pick what they need from the shelves.

“We reached a point where we were really injuring ourselves trying to carry food up and down the stairs,” said Catherine Hassinger, director of community services. “Our poor sister did that for many years.”

Hassinger said it took five years, but eventually, Catholic Charities was able to find the new location on Eisenhower Avenue.

Those working at the pantry said the new layout helps give more dignity to the process for those in need of assistance.

“For us as a Catholic organization, it’s about dignity, and dignity comes with choice,” said Stephen Carattini, President and CEO of Catholic Charities of the Diocese of Arlington. “What kind of cereal do they want? What kind of bread? We have that as a luxury, but most people don’t have that choice.”

“It’s a kind of relationship built with our clients that makes a difference,” Juan said. “It’s about how we serve them; with respect and dignity and friendship.”

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