Below the Beltway

Small-Scale Food Drive Making a Big Difference

It really is true that one person can make a big difference. Read about local woman Julie Denton and her efforts to help the community.

L-R: Julie Denton, Elisa Schlacter, Pam Herbert, Shawn Wells, and Jennifer Forsythe pose for a photo after transferring donated food from the small-scale group to the Creekside Village staff.
(All photos by Susan Fleischman)

Alexandria, VA – Since last year, Alexandria resident Julie Denton had been involved with a local charity delivering food to school children in need. It was an easy commitment and, like all volunteering and charitable actions, it made her feel happy to help. Then the pandemic closed the schools.

Denton wondered about all the people who depended on those donations, their already dangerous food insecurity now made much worse due to lost wages. Of course the local school systems were delivering food to schools for those in need, but Denton thought perhaps she could do a little more.

Shawn Wells, left, and Julie Denton are happy to be working together in the small-scale food drive
(All photos by Susan Fleischman)
Creekside Village Compliance Officer Pam Herbert and Senior Community Manager Shawn Wells
(All photos by Susan Fleischman)

She reached out to Shawn Wells, senior community manager of Creekside Village Apartments, one of the recipients of the previous food donation program that Denton had been helping.

Wells was sitting at her desk when the call came in. “The timing was perfect,” she said. “COVID-19 had just started, and we noticed our delinquency rate was beginning to get high. We wondered, how can we help these residents? And then Julie called us, out of the blue, asking if we could use any food donations. Of course, I said yes! Perfect timing.”

Denton emailed about a dozen friends, letting them know about this small-scale food drive, and provided a list of suggested items the Creekside residents needed, such as individually wrapped instant oatmeal and mac and cheese packets, canned fruit, pasta, rice, peanut butter, and jars of baby food.

That was in April. Denton has made nine deliveries since then (about every three weeks or so), and her email list has grown to 30 people. All friends may not give every time, but Denton’s car is always full of food for the deliveries.

Wells is beyond grateful for the donations. “We want our residents to know that we are not just in the property office working,” she said, “We are here to help them in any way we can. Being able to give them this food, along with information on the rental assistance programs, is absolutely helping people survive.”

One good idea often leads to another, and the friends on Denton’s email list thought of other things besides food to donate, such as art supplies and classes, gardening, and voting advocacy.

Half full or half empty? Halfway there is the best guess…
(All photos by Susan Fleischman)

Denton is humbled by it all. “I always wanted to keep it low-key, and I used to wonder if people were getting sick of hearing from me about it. But honestly, now I am thrilled that these new ideas and programs are happening.”

It really is true that one person can make a big difference. As Wells said, “People hesitate to give sometimes because they can’t give a lot. They think their offering isn’t enough and can’t make a difference. But when combined with other small efforts, it grows and becomes more sizable, more valuable, more impactful.”

If you’d like to start a small-scale food drive or something similar for a community in need, let Shawn Wells know. She manages several properties in our area that could use some assistance. Contact Shawn at [email protected], or call 703-780-9001.

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