The generosity of Mason District and Northern Virginia residents is remarkable, as evidenced by the results of the third blanket and coat drive for Syrian refugees, organized and sponsored by the Northern Virginia Regional Commission. The first blanket drive, in 2013, gathered about 30,000 pounds of blankets, which were shipped to Turkey, gratis, by Maersk Line, the shipping conglomerate. The blankets were distributed in the Syrian refugee camps in Turkey by a Turkish non-profit similar to the American Red Cross.
In 2014, nearly 40,000 pounds of blankets were shipped, and this year, with a broadened collection area extending to Richmond, 120,000 pounds (60 tons) of blankets and coats were shipped. The idea of a blanket drive was initiated by local leaders who visited Turkey on a legislative mission as guests of the Turkish-American Friendship Fund. One of their stops was at a refugee camp, where tens-of-thousands of Syrian refugees – men, woman, and children – had fled from war and violence in their home country. Many families had left in the middle of the night with little more than those clothes they were wearing and perhaps a valise or two. Housed in tents, with winter approaching, their plea was for blankets, any kind of blanket that would help ward off the winter temperatures.
The word went out, local Supervisor’s offices served as collection points, and the blankets began to appear, a trickle at first, and then a torrent – handmade quilts, crocheted afghans, duvets, baby blankets, brand-new blankets still in their store packaging – extended from the office door to the hallway and into the lobby. Individuals, church groups, and businesses all contributed, in staggering amounts. That was in 2013, and the amounts have increased exponentially each year since. Thankfully, the Maersk Lines continue to support the shipments across the seas, along with local storage companies who transport the donations to Maersk ports.
In times of need, here at home or thousands of miles away, Northern Virginians respond, generously and enthusiastically, to calls for assistance. Although the blanket drive is completed for this year, there still are needs to be met, and local non-profits, like Annandale Christian Community for Action (ACCA) and Northern Virginia Family Service (NVFS), provide services and accept donations for our neighbors who need help, not just during this season of giving, but all year long. A big THANK YOU to all the donors and volunteers! You help make our community thrive.
Each year, the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors adopts a Legislative Program, asking the Virginia General Assembly to consider in the upcoming session in Richmond. The overarching priority for 2016, as discussed in previous columns, is K-12 education funding. The state must provide its fair share of funding, which has decreased dramatically since 2008, affecting every school division in the Commonwealth. The Board’s adopted Legislative Program may be accessed on-line at www.fairfaxcounty/gov. Click on “Board of Supervisors” and the Legislative Program, as well as the Human Services Issue Paper, is in the right hand column.
Penny Gross is the Mason District Supervisor, in the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors. She may be emailed at [email protected]