It was hunger that took Jay A. Pilger, 21, out into the night on his bicycle last Aug. 8 -- the need for a sandwich, a soda, cigarettes that sent him to a 7-Eleven in Merrifield.

His nocturnal errand put him in a position to save a Fairfax County police officer from being knifed.

Pilger, a painter and graduate of Annandale High School, was one of 23 Northern Virginians who were honored by the Fairfax County police last week for going beyond the normal role of citizen, doing everything from catching purse snatchers to tracking armed robbers through the snow.

When Pilger got to the 7-Eleven that night, he said recently, he saw a Fairfax County police officer having difficulty in his attempt to arrest a man who appeared to be drunk.

As Pilger watched, a friend of the man being arrested moved in toward the squad car.

In the front pocket of the friend's pants, Pilger said, he saw a large knife. "I was just afraid he was going to knife the police officer, and take his gun and shoot somebody," Pilger said.

The friend walked right up to the officer, said something to him, and reached for the knife. Pilger said he didn't hesitate.

"I just grabbed the knife out of his pocket and backed up. He started saying he was going to kill me," Pilger said. The man took two swings at Pilger, connecting with one.

The friend grabbed the police officer's flashlight, which was sitting on the hood of the car, and started chasing Pilger around the car, hitting him on the head with it.

"Eventually, I just stopped running. I got tired of being hit in the head and I turned to face him and he kicked me in the groin," Pilger said.

Just then reinforcements arrived. The parking lot filled with police cars and officers, and the man being arrested and his friend were subdued.

Following are the names of the other area residents given valor awards by the Fairfax County police department and a brief description, as provided by police, of the incident for which they are being honored.

KATHARINA ARNHOLD, Alexandria area: On Sept. 11, 1982, Arnhold witnessed the armed robbery of a gas station in the Alexandria area. She followed the getaway car until she could get a description and license tag number.

VICTOR COSMERUSSE, Reston: On Oct. 2, 1983, Cosmerusse saw a police officer being attacked by a man he was attempting to arrest. Cosmerusse went to the officer's aid, helping to subdue the man.

DELORES HANGER, Vienna area: On Nov. 15, 1983, Hanger saw a suspicious-looking car with four occupants in Reston. Hanger provided the car's description and tag number to police.

LAURIE HARRISON, Dale City, GAIL JOHNSON, Burke, RICHARD SCHNEIDER, Burke, and KEITH SPILLARS, Alexandria area: On Aug. 9, 1984, all four responded to the screams of a woman who had had her purse snatched in the parking lot of a Mount Vernon office building.

HAROLD S. JENKINSON, Alexandria: On Jan. 16, 1984, Jenkinson was a customer in a Franconia fast food restaurant when the restaurant was robbed by a man armed with a gun. Jenkinson provided a description of the suspect.

LEE LANSING, Falls Church area: During a spate of burglaries and rapes in McLean in October and November 1983, Lansing provided a description of a man he saw after one of the burglaries.

GARY LUTZ, Alexandria, and TIM SHERIDAN, Burke: On Dec. 5, 1983, a man grabbed a woman's purse near Baileys Crossroads. Sheridan and Lutz provided a description of the suspect.

CHRISTOPHER NOLL and MATTHEW NOLL, Falls Church area: On Sept. 27, the two men were assisting a woman who had locked her keys in her car when they saw two men jump from the woman's front porch carrying a bag. Realizing the woman's home had been burglarized, the two brothers chased the men, one of whom was apprehended.

EDWIN T. OLIVER, FRANKLIN SPINNEY, BRUCE SPINNEY, Alexandria: On July 4, 1984, the three saw a man carrying a box from behind a neighbor's home. The three men inspected the house, and found it had been burglarized. They summoned police and rode around with officers and identified the man, who was arrested.

GLEN C. OLSON, Alexandria area: On Nov. 29, 1982, Olson witnessed the burglary of a Seven Corners clothing store. He reported the incident to police and watched those he observed commit the burglary until police arrived and made arrests.

RENDA SABET and ABDUL TABIBI, Falls Church: On Jan. 5, 1984, an elderly woman waiting for a bus near Seven Corners had her purse snatched. The woman gave chase, and Tabibi, who witnessed the purse snatching, also gave chase.

FRANK STROEBEL AND JENNIFER STROEBEL, Alexandria area: On Jan. 28, 1984, Jennifer Stroebel saw two boys walking in the Alexandria area of the county, stuffing objects into their pockets and the waistbands of their pants. She followed them for a time, then returned home and called the police.