Lerner Enterprises has donated space again to the Community Holiday Coalition, rescuing its holiday food basket and gift programs for low-income families. The coalition had said some programs might be cut or eliminated if space wasn't found by Sept. 1.
"We didn't get space last year till the first week of November . . . so I was happy to hear that Lerner would be offering us the space again," said coalition coordinator Karen Velez.
The coalition was established in 1996 by several local government agencies and nonprofit organizations that wanted to combine holiday charity programs. For the first five years, the coalition operated out of the National Guard Armory in Leesburg, but it lost that space after the terrorist attacks Sept. 11, 2001.
The group then used an empty Wal-Mart on Route 28 at Waxpool Road that was owned by Lerner, the developer of Dulles Town Center. When that was rented out, Lerner donated 20,000 square feet in the Vintage Park One office complex off Routes 28 and 606 in Sterling. The availability of that space this year was uncertain until Lerner said last week that it could be used again.
The coalition, assisted by more than 1,000 volunteers, runs a "store" where eligible families can choose free holiday gifts and groceries.
The store setting gives families a sense of dignity, Velez said. "Everything we give is new. . . . It gives the parents a chance to shop around and find what their kid would like," she said.
The items are donated or bought with money from local businesses, schools, youth groups and residents.
This year, the Thanksgiving store will distribute slightly used jackets, non-perishable holiday food baskets and personal care baskets with such items as toothpaste, laundry detergent and shampoo. The Christmas store will distribute $20 to $25 grocery store gift certificates, toys, clothing and filled stockings.
Tentative store dates are Nov. 15 for Thanksgiving and Dec. 4-16 for Christmas. Volunteers are needed for all dates, Velez said.
The program has grown from helping 400 families 10 years ago to more than 1,200 families last year.
"We have a generous community," Velez said.
Eligibility is determined by income. Applications will be available after Sept. 15 at www.loudoun.gov or from the Loudoun County Department of Social Services, Loudoun Interfaith Relief or the Good Shepherd Thrift Store. To make a donation or volunteer, call 703-771-5718 or visit www.loudoun.gov/dss/holiday.