In one of the wealthiest counties in the United States, more than 60 percent of residents live below the poverty line.
Faith-based nonprofit Western Fairfax Christian Ministries (WFCM) is working to address this disparity through its food bank, classes, and financial assistance program for residents who live at or below 200 percent of the federal poverty line.
“For a family of four people, [that] is around $52,000 per year. That is not enough,” says Pamela Montesinos, director of client operations at WFCM.
Montesinos says the economic strain of the COVID-19 pandemic has dramatically increased the need for their services in the communities they serve, which includes Fairfax County and surrounding areas. The organization accepted 30 percent more clients in March of 2020, many who had never before needed to access social services.
“We have a lot of families that have eviction notices. They don’t know how they can pay the electric bills, or water,” she says. “Sometimes they need to call us and just share with us, and we are here to hear them.”
WFCM’s food pantry is serving more than 500 families a month, with an additional 200-300 families served through their community distribution, which delivers leftover perishables from the pantry directly to low-income housing developments in the area.
One client at WFCW, Matilde Cabrera, is raising three children, one of whom has special needs and requires 24-hour care. Cabrera hoped to start working again once her youngest daughter was old enough for Head Start.
But the pandemic meant virtual school, and a need to keep her high-risk son at home, so Cabrera had to find other ways to supplement the family income. She found WFCM through her son’s school, enrolled in their financial education classes, and began visiting the food pantry once a month to shop for groceries and supplies.
“If I come and they give me a gallon of milk, it’s $3.99 that I’m saving for my house. I’m really grateful for everything that I receive here. We use it, and in my family it’s a blessing.”