The Forum of the Fairfax County Government Center looked like the staging area for a full-fledged overland assault. Identical white vans were lined up on the grass behind the Government Center; multiple colored signs identified the items to be unloaded, sorted, and re-packaged; and dozens of volunteers commandeered bags and baskets to be filled. But this wasn’t equipping for war; it was the first-ever county-wide coordinated event to help more than 500 homeless persons and their families move toward independence with a special care package.
Toothbrushes, toothpaste, personal hygiene items, laundry detergent, paper towels, bathroom tissue, household cleaning supplies, and other personal items were snatched up and swiftly placed into laundry baskets and red Target bags. Target was the corporate sponsor of the “Giving Back to Get People Home” event, and many volunteers were Target employees wearing the familiar red circle logo on their shirts. Watching the volunteers, I was reminded of the first time a child went off to camp or college, hoping we had remembered to put all the necessary items into a backpack or shower tote. These baskets, however, were designed to assist homeless persons with some of the necessities of a household as they transition into their very own place to call home.
In 2008, the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors approved an innovative and daunting Ten Year Plan to prevent and end homelessness. It was a big step, and a policy change that required assistance from all sectors in our community – local government, the faith community, businesses, and the non-profit sector – to be able to accomplish such a massive goal. The Plan needed measurable implementation across the partnership, and so, in 2009, the Board established the Office to Prevent and End Homelessness, which works with a growing range of partners to manage, coordinate, and monitor the activities in the Plan We also established a tip-top, and independent, governing board to build awareness and provide strong leadership.
The generous sponsorship of Target allowed several non-profit organizations to provide additional assistance to their clients: FACETS; Good Shepherd Housing and Family Services; Homestretch; New Hope Housing; Reston Interfaith; Shelter House; United Community Ministries; and Volunteers of America, Chesapeake. Volunteer Fairfax and the Fairfax Falls Church Community Partnership on Ending Homelessness also provided support. Dean Klein, director of the county’s Office to Prevent and End Homelessness, presided over the entire event, reminding volunteers that the “Giving Back” event was not a race. It was designed to be fun, and if the cheery expressions of the volunteers were any indication, it was!
Labor Day is a little later this year, but the annual Fill the Boot Drive by the Fairfax County Fire and Rescue Department will take place as usual during the long first weekend in September. Firefighters will be collecting donations at major intersections throughout the county for the fight against muscular dystrophy and related diseases. The drive is sponsored by Local 2068, and Fairfax County usually ranks first or second nationwide for the amount of money raised for this worthy cause. Please look out for the firefighters, and be generous.
Penny Gross is the Mason District Supervisor in the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors. She may be e-mailed at [email protected]