When the COVID-19 pandemic reached our community we were forced to make significant changes to our Safe Youth Projects, Teen Center, and Family Resource Centers. We stopped hosting youth in-person and switched to calling them on the phone, doing activities over Zoom, and helping them adjust to distance learning. Meanwhile, many families in the community were losing their incomes and struggling to provide for themselves and their children. So, we adapted to meet the need and started distributing food in three communities: Culmore, Annandale, and Springfield – in Springfield and Culmore we’ve set up food distribution centers, and in Annandale we do home deliveries. (We also deliver food to homes in Springfield and Culmore if families are unable to pick it up or at higher risk for contracting COVID-19.) Through it all we’ve been maintaining relationships with youth, families, and community partners, both running the food distribution centers and also joining calls and hosting virtual activities.
It’s been a busy season, but every week proves the need as more and more families show up to receive support. We spoke with Edwin Alfaro, Community Organizer of Opportunity Neighborhoods for Second Story in the Community, about what a typical day looks like at the food distribution center in Culmore.
9:45 – Employees & some of the food donations begin to arrive at the Culmore Family Resource Center. We receive donations through community groups and individuals (like you!) and as well as local partners like World Central Kitchen, Dar Al-Hijrah, Capital Area Food Bank, and Food for Others. The food is organized into categories in the center.
11:00 — Employees arrive at World Central Kitchen’s site in DC, picking up hot meals to bring back to our centers. Meanwhile, other staff begin sorting donations at the food distribution centers.
11:30 – People begin lining up outside the center, an hour and a half before the distribution begins. Every week we have seen our numbers increase as word has spread. We serve hundreds of people every Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday, with numbers sometimes reaching 400 or 500.
12:30 – We begin setting up tables and encouraging people to stand 6 feet apart and wear masks, even as the line stretches around the apartment complex. Youth from our after-school programs begin arriving to say hello and pick up food for their families. We’re always happy to see them! Meanwhile, the families in line wait patiently and keep an eye on their children playing with their neighbors. This face-to-face time is valuable because it lets us connect with families, build relationships, and tell them about the other resources available through Second Story. “Because I’m there on donation days the neighborhood can put a face to who they can communicate with when they need help,” Edwin says. For example, we recently began working in a new area and people were skeptical of us at first. We began food distribution, consistently showing up in the community, and slowly began to build trust. We’re thankful for the opportunity our food distribution centers have provided to invest more deeply in the community.
1:00 – Food distribution begins! Each bag of food includes meat, produce, snacks, milk, water, and other things like canned goods and Maseca corn flour as well as hot meals. “Some of the families that live in Culmore live in apartments where there are 4 families in that apartment,” explains Edwin. “We ask, ‘how many in the household?’ And they say six or eight or ten, so we give them that much.”
Each family comes through individually and remains in line while we place the food on the table. Once everything is ready we step away to allow them to pick it up and carry it home. For safety, we never come within six feet of each other.
3:30 – 4:00 – We begin wrapping up as we run out of food. Our end time depends on how much food we have and how many people come – we distribute until everything is gone.
4:00 – We begin cleaning up tables and the center.
We’re proud of our dedicated staff who have adapted their jobs and routines to better serve youth and families in need, and we’re thankful for the support of our community in providing food, meals, and transportation. To learn more about how you can pitch in visit our website.