Take a short drive on Interstate 66, just west of Washington, D.C., and you’ll ride by the cozy and quaint area of Fairfax County, Virginia. The suburban landscape, nestled under thick oak trees, dotted with friendly neighborhoods and peppered with tranquil street names such as Quail Creek Lane and Quiet Brooke Road, is ranked one of the country’s wealthiest regions with an average annual household income of $107,000. According to government statistics, Fairfax County’s population is just over one million, 60 percent of its residents have college degrees and 88 percent have healthcare. But the area’s affluent image is also serving as cover and canopy for a troubling economic crisis. “76,000 residents don’t know where their next meal is coming from. They deserve support,” says Lisa Whetzel, executive director of Our Daily Bread, a locally based nonprofit organization tapped with aiding the county’s poor. “I care about them because they're at a disadvantage.” According to Whetzel, the average income of her clients is roughly $22,000 a year, and yet “It really takes over $46,000 to live in Fairfax County,” she says.
Since 1986, Our Daily Bread has been offering financial assistance, food pantries and household fiscal literacy training to 4,000 clients annually. But despite the organization’s strong presence locally, 2014 federal budget cuts will significantly slash government-run food assistance programs and quickly cut long-term unemployment insurance for 1.3 million Americans (10,000 in Virginia). Our Daily Bread is concerned that federal belt tightening could continue the grief experienced by struggling families in Fairfax County. “We are worried that we are going to get more requests for food assistance and financial assistance,” says Whetzel. “We normally don’t see such an increase this time period because people are getting assistance for Thanksgiving or the holidays.”
Whetzel and her staff plan on aggressive fundraising in 2014 and encourage potential donors to offer gift certificates instead of canned foods. “Through our annual survey we’ve been hearing for years that they (clients) prefer the gift cards. We decided as an organization that we would move in that direction,” she says. “We’ll be doing a major educational push to our donors to make sure they understand.”
If you’d like to donate to Our Daily Bread, the organization encourages the public to visit its website at www.odbfairfax.org. “We are not at the number of donations as we were,” says Whetzel. “A decreased number of donations means we are less prepared to meet demand.”