The Arlington Food Assistance Center has seen a 20 percent surge in families visiting the food pantry in need of groceries over the past six months.
The number of families visiting the food pantry each week increased from an average of 1,430 visits in July to an average of 1,721 families each week in December.
And a recent study by Virginia Tech’s Center for Survey Research, commissioned by the local food assistance center, estimated 31,500 people experienced food insecurity in the past year. In other words, nearly 15 percent of Arlington's population had trouble feeding themselves or their families in the last year.
As a response to the growing need, then-Arlington County Board Chairman Walter Tejada in November launched a countywide "Moving Forward Together" food drive.
Between Nov. 15 and Jan. 15, government agencies, schools, congregations, community organizations and local businesses raised nearly 262,000 pounds of food, the Arlington Food Assistance Center, or AFAC, announced this week.
Tejada said in a statement that the food helped feed county residents in need during the holidays and into the new year.
“I would like to thank the Arlington community, County workforce, businesses and organizations that came together to stock AFAC’s shelves for the winter," Tejada said. "Together we can fight hunger here in Arlington… Let’s move forward!”
"Moving Forward Together" was a theme of Tejada's chairmanship, which concluded at the end of 2013.
The surge in need for assistance from the food pantry began in September, and reached a peak in November, according to a news release.
The food pantry cited the government shutdown, the rise of heating and hosing costs and cuts to the federal Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program — SNAP, or food stamps — as exacerbating the problem. The federal food stamps program was cut by $5 billion on Nov. 1, and Monday night, congressional negotiators released a new farm bill that cuts about $8 billion from the program over the next 10 years, according to the Washington Post.
“I don’t see this increased demand for our services … abating any time soon," Charles Meng, Arlington Food Assistance Center director, said in a statement. "The recent reduction in SNAP benefits hit our families hard. Further reductions expected this year when the Federal Farm bill is acted on by Congress will drive even more families in need to our doors."
He added that the recent food drive helped stock the pantry's shelves, "But, to meet our commitment to the less fortunate in our community, we will need the continued help of all in our community. No one in Arlington should go without food.”