Thanksgiving food
Clint Mitchell, the principal of Mount Vernon Woods Elementary School in Alexandria, Virginia, hands a turkey to a woman who stopped by to pick up food for a Thanksgiving meal. (Deborah Block/VOA)

ALEXANDRIA, VA - Limon Rivera stood patiently in a long line outside Food for Others in Fairfax, Virginia, near Washington, D.C., a large food bank that provides assistance to low-income families. 

Rivera was looking forward to picking up the fixings for a Thanksgiving meal, which included a turkey or chicken, side dishes and desserts. 

“This is the first time I’ve ever gone to a food bank,” the Salvadoran-born husband and father said quietly in Spanish. 

With coronavirus cases on the rise once again, Rivera was grateful for the help during a difficult time for his family. 

“My wife tested positive for COVID-19 about two weeks ago, and she’s been in quarantine in our apartment,” the construction worker said, as his 5-year-old son leaned up against him. “She is getting much better now, so hopefully there is a light at the end of the tunnel. But I’ve had to be off work to take care of our young children.” 

Rivera added, “This food will help us a lot since I’m not getting paid.” 

Flor Janis also knows what it is like to be short on cash as she waited in a line where people were carefully social distancing before being handed food boxes at the warehouse loading dock. 

People “social distance” while they wait their turn to pick up the fixings for a Thanksgiving meal, at Food for Others in Fairfax, Virginia. (Deborah Block/VOA)

“It’s very helpful to have this food ever since I found out I would be working less hours at my landscaping job,” she said. But on Thanksgiving, “I also look at my blessings, and I am thankful for my good health, since so many people have become ill or died from the coronavirus.” 

Virginia’s Fairfax County is one of the wealthiest in the United States. Yet 6% of its residents live in poverty. 

For many, the pandemic has worsened financial struggles, said Alison Padget, director of development and outreach for Food for Others. 

“More than half of the people who come to our food bank are Spanish-speaking immigrants,” she said. “We were seeing about 80 families a day at the warehouse at this time last year, and now we’re getting close to 200 every day. And the main reason is because people have lost their jobs during the pandemic.” 

Foster Marchand helps his father, Sterling, pack a bag with Thanksgiving food items for low income families at Mount Vernon Woods Elementary School in Alexandria, Virginia. (Deborah Block/VOA)

To help combat the long lines, Food for Others is also bringing food to several drop-off sites in Fairfax County closer to where some people live. 

The local community has been “really responsive” to the increasing food needs, Padget said. 

“We’ve received a record number of donations in the last couple of months, and so, people are stepping up to assist us in feeding the community,” she explained. 

In another part of Fairfax County, low-income families picked up bags of food for Thanksgiving at an elementary school. The event was sponsored by United Community, a local nonprofit that helps people in need.  

“Instead of people coming to our building, which has a food pantry, we are coming to where they live,” United Community president Alison DeCourcey said.

“Our school population is about 65% Hispanic and 20% African American, said Clint Mitchell, principal at Mount Vernon Woods Elementary School in Alexandria, Virginia, where food was handed out.

Low income families receive bags filled with traditional Thanksgiving food like stuffing and pumpkin pie at Mount Vernon Woods Elementary School in Alexandria, Virginia. (Deborah Block/VOA)

Many families live in crowded apartments where coronavirus can easily spread. 

Because of the conditions, “the families have been hit hard with the COVID-19,” Mitchell said. “They are hard-working,” and this event is a way “to bring love to the families for Thanksgiving.” 

That included Jacqueline Diaz and her three children.  

“I am grateful for this food that will allow me to take care of my family so we can have a nice Thanksgiving,” she said.  

The Marchand family handed out some of the 325 bags of food they had donated. They live in an upscale neighborhood several kilometers from the school. Through their small nonprofit, The Good Project, they partner with United Community to provide food for low-income families in the area.   

This warehouse overflows with food donations at Food For Others, a food bank in Fairfax, Virginia. (Deborah Block/VOA)

“We are very blessed and wanted to give back to families who might not have a Thanksgiving meal,” said Sterling Marchand. 

Yolanda Thompson, who lives in the neighborhood, placed a turkey in the car of a grateful family.  

“I’m glad I can give people a bit of joy in the midst of a pandemic through a Thanksgiving meal,” she said. 

Jose Nolasco, an immigrant from El Salvador, said he is happy to be celebrating Thanksgiving in the United States.  

“My family is having a feast,” he said, as he picked up a pumpkin pie at the school to take home. “I appreciate all the people who helped us.”