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Redevelopment plans force Vienna nonprofit to find new food pantry site

(Updated at 10:35 a.m.) An all-volunteer nonprofit that has served the Vienna area for more than 50 years needs a new home for its food and clothing pantry.

The Committee for Helping Others (CHO) learned last year that its current storage space at 133 Park Street NE will no longer be available after this fall, because the Vienna Courts condominium complex where it’s located is preparing for a redevelopment, according to publicity chair Anne Moran.

Operating since 1969, CHO has leased the site for free from the Vienna Presbyterian Church for the past 10 years, but the current lease will end in October. While a six-month extension is possible, depending on the pace of the redevelopment, a relocation will still eventually be necessary.

“Through circumstances out of VPC’s control, the complex where the space is located is going to be redeveloped, and CHO will need to move before the end of October 2022,” Moran wrote in an email. “CHO is hoping to find another organization that would be willing to host our food and clothes pantry.”

At the moment, the Vienna Courts redevelopment appears to still be in its early stages.

Developer Steve Bukont of BFR Construction presented a proposal to the Vienna Town Council on Sept. 27 that would replace the four existing office buildings at 127-133 Park Street with 15 one-floor, multifamily residences “to provide an alternative housing option” near the town’s commercial corridor.

The Vienna Planning Commission discussed the project at a work session in October, but the town’s development activity map indicates that it hasn’t proceeded to the required public hearing stage of the rezoning process.

Bukont says existing leases in the office complex will be honored, and tenants are being given “ample time to prepare.”

“We extended our assistance on relocation options and continue to have talks with realtors, government officials and local charities,” Bukont said by email. “We eagerly join the greater community to find a long term solution to retain these organizations locally.”

According to Moran, CHO is seeking an approximately 950-square-foot space that’s available for free or below market rate and can accommodate both a food pantry and a clothing closet.

In addition to storing donated goods, CHO uses its pantry as a distribution center where volunteers sort food and other items that approximately 40 families pick up every month. The nonprofit serves 600 to 800 families, or 2,500 to 3,500 people, in Vienna, Oakton, Dunn Loring and Merrifield annually.

“There’s a lot of people in the community — more and more over the past two or three years — that just don’t have enough money to make ends meet,” Moran said. “…The ability to get some additional food, to have diapers, you just offset those expenses. [It] can make whatever money they’re making go a lot further and help them pay rent and other things.”

Moran says demand has remained fairly steady during the pandemic, in part because other individuals and community groups stepped up to assist those in need with food drives and other charitable efforts.

While another site in Vienna would be ideal, CHO is open to considering any options that are centrally located in its service area and accessible by public transportation. Moran advises anyone with a possible location or suggestions to contact CHO at facility@cho-va.com.

“We haven’t even considered that,” she said when asked what would happen if a viable space isn’t found by October. “We are assuming we’re going to find some solution.”

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