Arlington Charities is the largest food pantry in the city. This month, Penny Rowell, development director for the organization, shares some of the challenges facing the organization as its staff and volunteers maneuver around a pandemic that has left the less fortunate in the community with an even greater need than normal …
Arlington Charities is a “client choice” pantry. Previously, clients came into our facility to “shop” for the specific grocery items their family needed. In March of 2020, the COVID-19 pandemic forced us to drastically restructure our operations and take on a much larger client base due to school and work shutdowns. We transitioned to a drive-through pantry over the course of a single weekend and limited our once rotating cast of volunteers to a small group of individuals who came every day in order to limit exposure.
Very quickly, our client base more than doubled, and we began taking on new client groups, such as families from the Arlington Independent School District who were displaced from school. We also began to implement new programs, such as frequent drive-through mobile pantries (with National Guard help), utility assistance, and grocery delivery (outlined further in fact sheet).
As we were gearing up for our annual holiday distribution, disaster struck in the form of an EF2 tornado. We lost power for our heating/air conditioning units, but the most devastating loss was that of our freezing and cooling units, which kept our perishable foods frozen. Our goal was to get back to serving clients as quickly as possible, and we were lucky to have the help of a very supportive community. For several days, we stored our food in refrigerated trucks and worked in the dark by headlamp until our power came back on.
The pandemic and tornado were not the only disasters Arlington Charities faced in the last year. Last month’s historic winter storm provided new challenges for many in our community. Arlington Charities was able to provide bottled water to city personnel who were working to get utilities back on and donated food and water to the Arlington Life Shelter. In the weeks following the storm, we provided food to an increased client base and gave out water to many who were still without running water.
One of the things we also experienced were changes to our fundraising. Previously, we hosted a popular annual event, the Help and Hope Celebrity Chef Showcase, where donors enjoyed a three-course tasting and cooking demonstrations by a popular local chef. This was complemented by wine pairings and an auction. Unfortunately, we had to cancel the event last year due to COVID and limited time to restructure the event in a safe way. We are very excited to bring back the Help and Hope Celebrity Chef Showcase this year as a livestream event with a unique twist. Two local restaurant owners and Food Network Superstars, Randy Ford, from J. Gilligan’s, and Aziz Kobty, from Prince Lebanese Grill, will discuss the stories behind their restaurants, their most famous dishes, and what it was like to be featured on the Food Network – a live “behind the scenes look.” The event will be moderated by famed novelist, O.K. Carter, and livestreamed from Tony Rutigliano’s Urban Alchemy Coffee and Wine Bar. We will also be raffling off several exciting packages provided by some of Arlington’s favorite restaurants.
It has been a wild year for us, but we experienced a lot of positive changes and are excited to move forward into 2021.
For more: arlingtoncharities.org