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Patrick Henry Library in Vienna (staff photo by Angela Woolsey)

Fairfax County Public Library’s annual food drive “Read and Feed” is now underway, replacing the “Food for Fines” program.

The county library system is asking residents to drop off “unexpired, commercially produced food items” as well as new, reusable grocery bags and kitchen tools to any of its 23 branches during their regular operating hours.

Last year, “Read and Feed” replaced the “Food for Fines” program after FCPL stopped charging overdue fines on most materials. The program had given library cardholders a reduction on fines based on the number of donated items.

Donations go to the nonprofit Food For Others (FFO), which will then distribute the items across the county. Food For Others provides food to about 3,000 families and meals to 3,500 FCPS students at 44 schools every week, per the county’s press release.

That represents only a small percentage of students in need, though. There are another 13 schools on the waitlist.

There was about a 30% increase in terms of families that FFO helped between 2021 and 2022, FFO’s director of development and outreach Anna Slaten said in a county press release.

It’s anticipated that inflation over the past year will make the need even greater. Relatedly, donations in the summer of 2022 were down 30% from the previous year.

“With inflation, not just our clients are feeling the effects, but our donors are also,” Slaten said.

Additionally, pandemic-era emergency SNAP benefits ended last month, leaving locals looking for even more help.

FFO recently expanded its Merrifield warehouse to address the growing need.

Library branches across the county are accepting pretty much all canned foods, though there are a few items that FFO needs in particular:

  • Oil
  • Cereal
  • Canned tomato products (crushed, peeled, diced, etc.), 4 oz. – 1 lb.
  • Canned meat (chicken, turkey, or seafood), 2 oz. – 15 oz.
  • Rice, 16 oz. packages
  • Spaghetti sauce, 14 oz. – 1 lb. (ideally in cans instead of glass)
  • Canned fruit (packed in fruit juice instead of syrup) 11 oz. – 20 oz.
  • Dried or canned beans (black, kidney, pinto, etc.)
  • Pasta
  • Fruit juice (100% juice) 32 oz. – 64 oz.
  • New or clean reusable grocery bags
  • Can openers

Items not accepted include food that is not labeled, food that’s cooked, opened items, and canned food that is more than three years past its expiration date.

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Len Forkas plans to ski to the North Pole to raise money for his nonprofit organization (courtesy Hopecam)

Len Forkas, a Reston-based businessman, is skiing to the North Pole in a few weeks to break the ice on support for kids with cancer.

The 63-year-old — who is described as an “ultra-endurance athlete” — plans to ski 60 miles to the North Pole in order to raise money for Hopecam, a nonprofit organization he founded that connects children undergoing cancer treatment with their friends.

“I know some people think I’m crazy,” Forkas said. “But I think of myself as crazy about Hopecam’s kids. I hope I’ve convinced everybody that I’ll go to any length to support them.”

For Forkas, the trek is will bring him one step closer to his goal of completing the Explorer’s Grand Slam, a physical challenge that includes a trek to the North Pole, the South Pole, and all the highest mountain peaks on each of the seven continents, known as the Seven Summits.

So far, Forkas has travelled to five of the Seven Summits. He hopes to check off this physical challenge by August 2024 in time for his 65th birthday.

He plans to fly to a Norwegian village at the end of the month to meet the expedition team. They will then fly to a temporary camp in the Arctic Ocean.

Forkas founded Hopecam through personal struggle.

In 2002, his son, Matt, was diagnosed with leukemia. Forkas received permission from Fairfax County Public Schools to install a webcam in the classroom of a school in Great Falls to make sure Matt could participate. He began competing in ultra-endurance sports at the time of his son’s diagnosis.

“The exercise helped me cope with the stress of Matt’s illness,” he said. Matt, now 30, survived the bout of illness.

Forkas hopes to raise $60,000 for the nonprofit organization by matching the 60 miles he will ski to the North Pole. So far, the campaign has raised over $10,500, as of this morning.

With Hopecam, kids are provided with a tablet computer with a webcam, internet access if it’s unavailable, and assistance to work with the school so they can take part in some classroom activities and see their friends.

The nonprofit organization is celebrating its 20th anniversary this year. It aims to overcome the social isolation that kids often experience while they receive cancer treatment.

“His North Pole journey presents a timely opportunity to showcase this noteworthy occasion,” Brett Fox, Hopecam’s development director, said.

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Provision Church organized a Lenten Fish Fry as its first community dinner on Feb. 24 (courtesy Provision Church)

The Springfield United Methodist Church will open its doors at 7047 Old Keene Mill Road tomorrow (Friday) to anyone in need of a warm, free meal for St. Patrick’s Day.

While hosted by that church, the St. Patrick’s Day Supper and Community Conversation is being organized by the Provision Church, a new United Methodist Church dedicated to addressing food insecurity in southeastern Fairfax County.

Launched on Jan. 1, Provision Church aims to help people in need not just by handing out meals, but by encouraging entrepreneurship and teaching culinary skills through a planned job training program, its leader, the Rev. Alyssa Densham, told FFXnow.

“We go further up the river than offering someone just a free meal or a free bag of food,” Densham said. “We speak into the right that all people have for self-determination and hope to level the playing field so that all people have access to the resources and support to become the people they dream of becoming.”

A trained chef who graduated from the Culinary Institute of American in 2010, Densham worked at a food bank, the nonprofit National Farm to School Network, and faith-based charity programs before becoming associate pastor of food justice and access at Rising Hope Mission Church in Mount Vernon.

Provision Church grew out of conversations she had while working in communities along the Route 1 corridor, where she met people who aspired to have their own food-related businesses but struggle with a lack of financial or emotional support, health care access, literacy, and other barriers.

“I spoke to one woman who is a phenomenal cook, but because of [a] poorly supported learning challenge, she is functionally illiterate and can’t read recipes to work in the restaurants that she wants to work in,” she said. “Through these conversations, I heard communities cry out for programs that saw them as whole people with real dreams living real lives.”

Fairfax County residents with the greatest challenges accessing food are concentrated along the Route 1 or Richmond Highway corridor, according to the county’s 2022 Food Security Index, though there are also pockets of high need in Annandale, Seven Corners and the Herndon area.

A county economic needs assessment found that food costs in the region rose 8.4% from May 2021 to May 2022 and 25.6% over the past decade, straining households likely also struggling with other expenses.

Overall, about 24% of county residents are food-insecure, 8% of them severely, the Capital Area Food Bank’s 2022 Hunger Report found. Read More

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Alice’s Kids co-founder Ron Fitzsimmons with actor and comedian Patton Oswalt (photo courtesy of Ron Fitzsimmons)

A famed comedian and actor won $250,000 for local charity Alice’s Kids by playing “Celebrity Jeopardy.”

At the finale of the annual “Celebrity Jeopardy” tournament that aired Sunday (Feb. 7), Patton Oswalt finished in second place and was awarded a quarter of a million dollars to donate to a charity of his choice.

As first reported by On the MoVe, the stand-up comedian/actor perhaps most known for voicing Remy in the Pixar movie “Ratatouille” chose Alice’s Kids, a Mount Vernon-based nonprofit that provides money to disadvantaged kids for small items like soccer cleats, school trips, and birthday parties.

“It’s a huge boost to our budget,” co-founder Ron Fitzsimmons told FFXnow. “This is also now an excuse to go out and tell even more people about what we do.”

This isn’t the first time that Oswalt has contributed to the organization, but this large donation was recognized by Fairfax County Board of Supervisors Chairman Jeff McKay at the board’s meeting on Tuesday (Feb. 7).

Alice’s Kids was founded about 12 years ago by Fitzsimmons and his sister, Laura Fitzsimmons Peters. Naming the nonprofit after their mother, Alice Fitzsimmons, the siblings grew up in poverty in New York and knew what it meant not to have the money for the opportunities that other kids might.

When Fitzsimmons moved to the D.C. area for law school, he also began to substitute teach at Mount Vernon High School. Once, when he encountered a student who was crying because they couldn’t afford a prom ticket, he helped the student and realized there was a real need for an organization that helps kids with seemingly small items that can make a big difference.

That could mean money to throw a birthday party, a new pair of basketball shoes, or a costume for a part in a school play. Alice’s Kids provides the funds anonymously, often working through schools and social workers.

“We don’t pay for food. We don’t pay for medical assistance,” Fitzsimmons said. “So many other charities do that. We want to be totally unique.”

While Alice’s Kids initially focused on the Mount Vernon neighborhood and surrounding areas, it has expanded to become a national organization and now helps kids across the country.

With that growing reach came attention from some notable figures. It was perhaps 2016 when Fitzsimmons noticed a familiar name on a form for a very generous donation to Alice’s Kids. Read More

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Former World Central Kitchen CEO Nate Mook was recognized Tuesday for his humanitarian efforts (courtesy Lisa Connors)

Reston native Nate Mook was honored by the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors Tuesday (Feb. 7) for his humanitarian work around the globe.

A Restonian who attended South Lakes High School, Mook served as the former CEO for the World Central Kitchen, a nonprofit organization founded by chef and philanthropist Jose Andres that serves chef-prepared meals to communities hit by natural disasters and other crises.

He is also a filmmaker behind movies like “Baltimore Rising,” which followed the aftermath of Freddie Gray’s death in Baltimore police custody in 2015. He has made documentaries around the world, including in Somalia, Panama and Iraq, according to Hunter Mill District Supervisor Walter Alcorn.

At the meeting, Mook said his roots in Reston helped define his work.

“It truly is an honor to be here today, not only because I grew up in Reston and Fairfax County, but because as Supervisor Alcorn mentioned, it really shaped who I am today. This is a community where service to others, I think, is a central, core value,” Mook said.

Chairman Jeff McKay lauded Mook for his work.

We’re so proud of you and inspired by you, and certainly wish you continued success. The need is out there, but knowing there are people like you in this world, I think we can all rest a little bit easier,” McKay said.

Mook joined World Central Kitchen in 2017 to lead food relief efforts in Puerto Rico after Hurricane Maria. He became CEO the next year and has since traveled worldwide, including several months in Ukraine. Under his leadership, the nonprofit organization has served more than 60 million meals.

He is the son of historian Sarah Larson, who founded Reston Museum.

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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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The final polar dip returns to Reston next month (courtesy David Madison Photography)

Camp Sunshine’s 15th polar dip — Freezin’ for a Reason — will return to Reston’s Lake Anne Plaza on Feb. 11 for a final hurrah.

Beginning at noon, spectators will gather to watch registered participants plunge into the lake — or take a “chicken dip” with just toes — to raise funds for Camp Sunshine, a nonprofit that organizes retreats for families who have kids with life-threatening illnesses.

“The Virginia Polar Dip has a unique aspect that adds to the fun,” Gail Toth, event founder and organizer, said. “We have a one-hour succession of splashes that brings plenty of cheers and laughter from the crowd of spectators.”

The event is the final dip after Toth and the team anticipate reaching their fundraising goal. Organizers hope to raise $100,000 for the charity in an effort to reach a $1 million target set when the event began in 2008.

Online event registration is open. On-site registration begins at noon on the day of the event, followed by the beginning of the polar dip at 2 p.m.

The fundraising model encourages registered participants to raise or donate a minimum of $100 to plunge into the frigid waters of the lake. Participants receive an event t-shirt.

The event was started by the Toth family, who took part in Camp Sunshine in 1996 when their 3-year-old daughter was a cancer patient. The family brought the event to Virginia to support other local families after they took part in a dip in New Jersey.

The inaugural Virginia event in 2008 brought 2,199 dippers to the lake.

Event organizers note that Reston Association does not maintain the lake for swimming standards. Typically, swimming is not allowed in Lake Anne.

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Colorful balls of yarn (via Margarida Afonso/Unsplash)

There’s no gift like one made by hand.

That sentiment inspired Fairfax County Public Library’s new “Knitting for Charity” initiative, a pilot project launching next week that encourages community members to craft winter hats for those who will need warm clothes as temperatures drop.

“We were thinking about some type of community-driven project, and [my programming assistant] felt that this was taking giving to the next level, because we are asking people to spend time creating something that other people will use,” FCPL Program and Educational Services Director Renee Edwards said.

Starting on Monday (Sept. 12), the City of Fairfax, Chantilly, Tysons-Pimmit, Patrick Henry and John Marshall libraries will have a limited supply of yarn available for pick-up. The bags will also contain a sewing label and instructions.

However, anyone with yarn can participate. The yarn must be new, washable, and made out of wool/wool-blend or 100% acrylic, according to the FCPL website, which says to specifically avoid angora or mohair yarn since people may be allergic.

Donations will be accepted at those five libraries until 6 p.m. on Nov. 18. All of the hats will go to the nonprofit Shelter House, which provides crisis intervention, permanent and emergency housing, and other services for families experiencing homelessness and victims of domestic violence.

Since it’s a new initiative, FCPL wanted to start small, but when administrators contacted each library branch to gauge its interest in serving as a collection site, “the response was tremendous,” Edwards says.

“We looked at all of the branches that responded positively, looked at where they were located geographically on the county map, and then we chose,” she told FFXnow. “If this initiative is successful, the hope is that next year, we would expand it.”

Edwards says the initiative’s name is intentionally broad so it can evolve going forward. Though the current focus is on hats, other clothing items like scarves and mittens will be accepted too, as long as everything is hand-knit.

Reflecting the modern expectation of libraries as providers of public resources beyond books, Knitting for Charity is a continuation of FCPL’s efforts to address a variety of community needs, whether through donation drives, classes that teach technology skills, or its promise of an escape from the summer heat.

“We always are looking for events and initiatives that continually demonstrate to our community that we are more than just books,” Edwards said. “Not that we don’t have book discussions and author events and story times — that’s our bread and butter — but we also take it a step further, and we do a lot of other different programs and initiatives for our community members.”

Photo via Margarida Afonso/Unsplash

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The inaugural JeanFest22 in Vienna will celebrate the life of Jean Buttecali, a resident, business owner and volunteer who died in 2020 (photo by Pete Buttecali)

This weekend, Vienna will celebrate a longtime resident the way she would’ve wanted: with a party for a good cause.

The Rotary Club of Vienna will stage its inaugural JeanFest22 Charity Benefit Concert at the Town Green and Jammin’ Java on Saturday (Sept. 10) in honor of Jean Buttecali, a local business owner and frequent volunteer who died suddenly from an unknown heart issue in summer 2020.

Conceived by Buttecali’s husband of over 30 years, Pete, the concert will supplement the ViVa Vienna festival that the rotary club organizes every Memorial Day weekend as a fundraiser. All proceeds will be added to those funds for donation to community groups and charitable causes.

“She had a huge heart, big smile, and also really did a lot of stuff behind the scenes philanthropically with different organizations,” JeanFest22 Chair A.J. Oskuie said “…When we lost her, we wanted to celebrate her in some way, and this was the best way to sort of commemorate her memory and also have a good time. She would want to do the same thing.”

In a video about JeanFest, Pete Buttecali calls his wife’s death a “devastating” tragedy in a year already made challenging by the COVID-19 pandemic. In addition to their marriage and two children, the couple shared ownership of Woodpile Studios, a design firm noted for creating the logo for the 2005 Grammy Awards.

Yet, Jean “was an optimist” who wouldn’t “tolerate a collapse into grief,” he says. They had promised each other that “if one of us passed away, don’t put on a funeral, throw a party.”

In that spirit, JeanFest will kick off at 11:30 a.m. on the Vienna Town Green with food, retail vendors, and family-friendly entertainment:

Admission to the outdoor concert is free, but there will be buckets and QR codes that attendees can use to make donations.

The festivities will move to Jammin’ Java (227 Maple Avenue East) from 7-10 p.m. for live music from the Arlington-based FBI Band, whose frontman was one of Jean’s best friends, according to Oskuie.

Tickets to the indoor, more adult-oriented “JeanFest Night Jam” start at $22 and can be purchased through Jammin’ Java. Ticket, merchandise, food and drink proceeds will go to charity.

Oskuie says the 2022 ViVa Vienna alone brought in about $240,000. Over the next year, the rotary club will support over 70 different organizations nominated by its members this fall, with distributions starting in November.

Among the beneficiaries will be So Others Might Eat, a D.C. nonprofit that helps people experiencing poverty and homelessness. Jean Buttecali was a supporter, and her family set up a GoFundMe page after her death that raised over $16,000 for the group.

Oskuie estimates JeanFest could draw a total of 4,000 to 5,000 people, making it smaller than ViVa Vienna, but the organizers hope it can have as outsized an impact on others’ lives as its namesake had on theirs.

“It’s a lot of folks who were in awe of Jean and knew her quite well that are running behind the scenes and doing different things,” Oskuie said. “So, it’s a celebration of her life and the proceeds…will benefit local charities that we’ve been giving to through Viva Vienna for years.”

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A fundraiser prepares to rappel down the Hyatt Regency Tysons Corner Center in 2021 (courtesy Sweetheart Photography by Tammy)

For those who find the prospect of being 14 stories in the air exciting instead of terrifying, the Hyatt Regency at Tysons Corner Center has some available views without the rooms.

Dozens of rappellers will descend down the side of the hotel later this month for a charity fundraiser to support the nonprofit Helping Haitian Angels (HHA), which runs a school and orphanage in Delke, Haiti.

Now in its second year, the event is a partnership between the nonprofit and Over the Edge, an adventure company that was also behind a rappeling fundraiser at the Hilton in Arlington. That raised over $200,000 for the local nonprofit New Hope Housing in May.

“Hyatt Hotels has a long-standing history of supporting local nonprofit and global organizations,” said Jon Davenhall, the hotel’s general manager. “…Hyatt Regency Tysons Corner Center is excited to be the Presenting Sponsor and help make a lasting impact in the lives of children who are left vulnerable without the care of loving parents.”

The fundraiser has been split into two days, starting at 4 p.m. on Aug. 26 with a kick-off reception, media day, and local celebrity and sponsor participants. All of the fundraisers will then rappel down the hotel between 11 a.m. and 5 p.m. on Aug. 27, according to a news release.

Funds raised by the event will go toward the construction of a secondary school and trade school at HHA’s Kay Anj Village campus in Haiti, HHA board member and Over the Edge event lead Carol Wallace says.

Founded in 2008 by a Christian missionary couple, HHA opened the Lekol Harvey Christian School for the children in its orphanage in October 2014 and now provides education and summer camps for up to 150 elementary school students and their parents, according to its website.

The new secondary and trade schools will serve older children as a complement to the existing school, which Wallace says “is thriving.”

“Children in the neighboring community of Dekle will also be invited to attend the secondary school once constructed,” Wallace said.

After landing 85 participants in 2021, HHA has upped the ante for this year’s Over the Edge event with a goal of 110 individuals. There are currently 44 people signed up, according to the event page.

Registration costs $50, which counts toward the minimum of $1,250 that aspiring rappellers must raise in order to participate.

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