Neighborhood food drive feeds thousands through network of volunteers
Alexandria, VA – Last summer, Alexandria residents Amber and Sterling Marchand were quarantined at home with their four young children. After reading about so many families suffering with food insecurity, they decided to hold a food drive in their neighborhood.
Amber said, “We put a box outside our house and let friends and neighbors know we were collecting nonperishables. The box filled immediately.” They continued colecting and people continued donating. Eventually, the Marchands discovered Martha’s Table, a longtime charitable organization in Washington, DC. The charity’s mobile unit, McKenna’s Wagon, was busy delivering sandwiches to neighborhoods in need, but they had a deficit of 250 sandwiches needed each day. By this point, the Marchands had assembled a small army of volunteers and started a Facebook page for their group, Be The Good Project, to put the need for sandwiches out to their community. The feedback was swift: Yes, we’ll help.
The sandwich drive took off. Through word of mouth and Facebook posts, volunteers showed up in droves, their numbers growing exponentially as scout groups and dance teams joined the effort. The Marchands invested in five mini-fridges at Costco for the sandwiches while still collecting nonperishables. Week after week, volunteer numbers increased right along with the need.
A family affair
As with any large volunteer concern, there is a lot of administrative work to do for the Be The Good project (BTG). The Marchands work as a team, of course.
Sterling handles the bookkeeping and paperwork. He filed for 501(c)(3) status when they saw how their small family food drive had morphed into something much bigger. Amber and the children do the packing; Amber also lends assistance to the project in a unique way.
Amber is a preschool art teacher at Aldersgate Day School and draws for fun. When she searched online for ideas to raise money for BTG, she found someone selling art for a food pantry. “I thought, well, what can I sell?” she said.
She launched an art business called RooScribbles (instagram.com/rooscribbles/) and posted whimsical family portraits and other charming scenes online, “and people started ordering them!
“It’s been nice to exercise my creative side and also raise more money for food, as well as have a neat way to connect with people all over the country,” she says. “Friends will post and their friends then reach out to me to place an order. People can’t resist a good cause, and it all goes toward the food.”
The project grows
As the year-end holidays approached, BTG created care packages, which are larger bags of nonperishables. Because BTG now had official nonprofit designation, they could accept financial donations which they converted into gift cards. They tucked the gift cards in with the care packages so recipients could purchase meal items of their choice, a rare luxury in these hard times. For Thanksgiving, BTG handed out 323 care packages. At Christmas, they delivered 585 packages through schools and churches.
After the holidays, when the pandemic kept people at home once again, the Marchands took a close look at their project. Knowing that many families received donations through churches and schools, they pondered, “What if food-insecure people can’t get to a food pantry?” Transportation complications and health issues could limit options. So they started a pilot program with the Creekside Village Community Center to support families who needed food and weekly groceries but couldn’t get to a pantry.
For the first time, BTG began collecting and distributing perishable food and groceries as emergency assistance for families in dire need, many with children. “We’ve gotten calls on a Friday night saying, this family is completely out of food, can you help? And we can, because of our volunteers,” said Amber.
Volunteers make it happen
The truth is that this operation would not be possible without the amazing network of volunteers, individuals, families, scout groups, churches, and others in the community who have risen to every challenge. The accomplishments are impressive: Since June 2020, they have delivered 30,000 pounds of food and 43,000 sandwiches.
Be the Good continues to attract an outpouring of support. In early February, two food trucks came forward with in-kind donations of food. BTG helped arrange the distribution that utilized two dozen volunteers delivering 280 meals to seven schools and two churches. All of this was in addition to their regular operations. Whew!
One exciting project being developed is Little Free Food Pantries. It adapts the concept of the Little Free Libraries people have installed in their front yards. BTG plans to build and place boxes in areas in need, where volunteers will stock them with essentials. They are working through the details and constructing the boxes. The plan is to have families, scout groups, or any group of volunteers sign up to adopt and stock the boxes.
“This has been a life-changing experience,” said Amber. “Not only for my husband and me but also for our children. The other day our 3-year-old saw groceries in the kitchen and asked if that was food for the neighbors or food for us. They were the first to tell us, this is no longer a food drive – we’re a food pantry now!”
How you can help
The best way to help Be the Good is through their website, www.bethegoodproject.org. The demand is seasonal, even weekly, and BTG’s goal is to stay nimble and respond to needs as they arise. Planning for spring care packages has begun, but for the most part, BTG plugs gaps where they can, whether it’s for sandwiches, emergency deliveries, or nonperishables. Donations are accepted on the website (100 percent of which is spent on food), sandwich-making assignments are filled on request, and nonperishable food can be dropped off 24/7.
While the Marchands feel they are answering a special calling on this journey, they’re humbled by the overwhelming support. As Amber said, “Everyone involved understands the need and welcomes the opportunity to do something. You can feel helpless when there’s so much that you can’t control. Focusing on this one area makes us feel like we’re making a difference, and we’re so grateful for that.”
Visit www.bethegoodproject.org for more information and to lend your helping hand.