In N.Va., Charities Get Going On Thanksgiving Giveaways

By Jacqueline L. Salmon
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, October 26, 2006

For charities in Northern Virginia, the Thanksgiving season starts before Halloween.

Area nonprofit groups that assist the needy are gearing up for their big Thanksgiving operation, when tens of thousands of families will receive grocery bags packed with food so they can enjoy a Thanksgiving feast.

Charities are beginning to gather donations of nonperishable food and organize armies of volunteers to pack the bags. And, increasingly, they are soliciting gift cards so families can make their own food choices.

At Reston Interfaith, an assembly line of several dozen employees and volunteers will pack bags of Thanksgiving food items on Nov. 16 and 17 and then distribute them to about 1,500 families the following day.

The bags contain canned foods, juice and snacks as well as traditional Thanksgiving fixings and a $20 gift card to a local grocery store.

It's a busy scene, said Mary Supley Foxworth, Reston Interfaith's communications manager, but "it's wonderful . . . that people in the community want to reach out and help people during the season."

One of the biggest distributors of Thanksgiving food in Northern Virginia is Action in the Community through Service, a Dumfries-based charity that plans to hand out bags of holiday fixings and grocery store vouchers to 1,600 families this year in Woodbridge.

Volunteers will be sorting and bagging food items on the weekends of Nov. 4 and 5 and Nov. 11 and 12, and then will distribute them Nov. 20 to 22, said ACTS Executive Director John Turnquist.

"It's an opportunity to help hundreds of families share in the joy of the holidays in ways that they couldn't do otherwise," he said.

Many ACTS clients were hit hard by the increase in gas prices in the past year, said Turnquist, particularly as many of them drive older cars with low gas mileage and have to travel long distances to jobs in Fairfax County and elsewhere.

Changing demographics in Northern Virginia have forced some nonprofit groups to move away from the traditional mass distribution of Thanksgiving food.

Northern Virginia Family Service, which has eight offices from Arlington to Loudoun counties, dropped its Thanksgiving food distribution this year in favor of giving gift cards to its clients.

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