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Dumfries pantry back in action with community’s assistance

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Kem Archie has a job, but she says that most months, it’s still hard to make ends meet.

She works full time but is classified as part time, meaning no benefits — which is how employers are cutting back in this economy, she says. Still, Archie said, she needs to feed her “grandbabies.”

That’s why Archie showed up with dozens of others Tuesday afternoon to collect a monthly allotment of food and supplies from Action in Community Through Service in Dumfries. And although the event had the feeling of routine — volunteers and staff stocked shelves and called out orders, caught up with regular clients and helped wheel out food and supplies to waiting cars — the recipients were glad they could come at all.

That’s because ACTS had to shut its doors unexpectedly last week because of a lack of supplies. Staff members thought it would stay closed until at least Nov. 1.

But an “incredible” thing happened, said Rebekah McGee, the ACTS emergency assistance program director. ACTS started putting the word out that hard times had hit the food pantry, and the community responded in force: By Tuesday, the shelves were full with about 30,000 pounds of food, and the organization’s checking account balance had grown by more than $120,000.

Churches, companies, civic groups and people who had never donated before gave money and food, McGee said.

On any Tuesday, the pantry usually serves about 100 people. “I think we’ll far surpass that today,” McGee said, as recipients packed ACTS’s small outer office, filled out paperwork and waited their turn for supplies.

Janet Redden of Woodbridge was at ACTS for the first time Tuesday. Her husband, a painter, fell off scaffolding and has undergone three surgeries in recent months, Redden said. She said she suffers from a heart condition and can’t work. While family members help her with rent, food costs can be a struggle, she said.

“Times are times, and we get through it,” Redden said. “[ACTS] helps you with just about everything.”

The organization refers food-pantry recipients to other charities as well — for rental assistance, for example — when clients say that they have other needs.

Volunteers and staff members were happy to jump back into action, too. Bob Mahon called out orders: “Okay, we have a family size seven! Yes on the milk . . . eggs . . . deer . . . peanut butter. Yes on as many toiletries as we can get!” The organization partners with Hunters for the Hungry, whose members can donate their kill, and a butcher cleans it for area charities.

“It was just a complete and utter shock to shut down,” Mahon said. Reopening so quickly on Tuesday “is fulfilling — I think that’s the best way to put it.”

There was plenty of laughter to go along with good spirits. While waiting for their supplies, several recipients pondered the possibility of “eating Bambi.” They were grateful for whatever they could get, they said, but weren’t sure whether they could put venison on their menu.

Archie said her family is from the South, and she knows how to deal with venison. “You’ve got to soak it so you can get the wild out,” she said. A little pepper and garlic, she said, and venison makes a hearty meal.

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