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To address increased food insecurity, nonprofit Food for Others expands Merrifield warehouse

As Wall Street continues to debate the likelihood of a recession, the past couple years of economic turmoil have already hit many Fairfax County residents in the wallet — and the stomach.

The need for food assistance remains almost as high as in the early days of the COVID-19 pandemic, according to the Merrifield-based nonprofit Food for Others, which saw twice as many families seeking help in 2020 compared to 2019.

To accommodate that elevated demand, Food for Others recently expanded its warehouse at 2938 Prosperity Avenue to 26,000 square feet. The 10,391-square-foot addition opened on Jan. 23 and will get a formal celebration at 8:15 a.m. tomorrow (Thursday).

“Food For Others has played a vital role as a food hub for non-profits and thousands of families around the County, especially during the COVID-19 pandemic,” Providence District Supervisor Dalia Palchik, who will be at the grand opening, said by email. “This recent expansion demonstrates their continued commitment to our families’ success.”

In addition to providing more storage and office space, the expansion has helped the nonprofit implement a revamped distribution model that lets its clients choose their own food, instead of having to accept whatever’s given to them in preassembled boxes.

The new “My Market” functions like a grocery store. Visitors walk in with a shopping cart and pick items off the shelves, which are stocked with dry and canned goods as well as perishable food, like produce and meat.

“It’s a much more dignified experience,” Food for Others Executive Director Annie Turner told FFXnow. “Before we had a situation where the volunteers were standing on a loading dock and the [clients] were down, 5 feet below them…It didn’t seem equitable having someone hand you food down.”

Food for Others first tried out the concept in 2016 and, after getting positive feedback, added a permanent market in early 2020. That much smaller site was only open for a couple of weeks before COVID-19 shut it down, but it was enough to demonstrate the model’s benefits.

“It really reduced the food waste, and families were actually taking less food, because it was the food that they really wanted,” Turner said.

Over 300 families came through the expanded market when it opened last month, according to Turner.

Distributing close to 3.7 million pounds of food last year, the nonprofit assists 225 to over 300 families per day. While demand hasn’t returned to the heights of 2020, it dwarfs the 60 to 80 families that Food for Others saw on a busy day prior to the pandemic.

Turner says requests for help started to decline in late 2021 but surged again last spring, as inflation sent prices for food, gas and other expenses soaring.

Food for Others is bracing for another influx due to federal funding running out for emergency Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program allotments. The increased benefits granted recipients in response to the pandemic will end nationwide in March.

More than 43,000 Fairfax County residents receive SNAP benefits. In its most recent report, the Capital Area Food Bank estimated that 24% of county residents experience food insecurity.

“Next week will be the last emergency allotments,” Turner said. “So, we anticipate a higher number of families once the families feel the hit of no longer getting that emergency allotment.”

With its expansion, the nonprofit has more capacity to meet the need for its existing services — and to introduce some new ones.

Using its new office space, Food for Others will partner with other nonprofits to provide everything from SNAP enrollment assistance to case management and dental care.

“We have a space in the new area that can help us provide those other services for our clients. So, we want it to be transformational and not just transactional,” Turner said.

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