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By CATHY DYSON
A King George group wants "to amp up" the help it gives needy residents by offering a monthly soup kitchen and food pantry.
Karen Jones is the director of the newly formed group, Love Thy Neighbor, which wants to offer hot meals and groceries to those in need.
"There's a lot of people in the community who are having to choose between buying food or paying utilities," she told the King George Board of Supervisors this week. "We really need something ongoing for them."
She asked the supervisors for permission to use the King George Citizens Center one Sunday every month for the event. Supervisors agreed to waive the rental fee, which would have amounted to $1,107 a year, said Tim Smith, director of the Department of Parks and Recreation.
Smith's office rents out the center for receptions and community events. He said the county's loss of income in this case would be "really minimal in the big picture."
"And big picture is, you're helping a lot of people," said Supervisor Chairman Cedell Brooks Jr.
Love Thy Neighbor was started by a group of women from various churches in the county, Jones said. For about 26 years, the women have met weekly for prayer--and quietly set about helping single mothers, seniors and families with meals, clothing and furniture.
For even longer than that--almost 40 years--Helen Lehr, pastor of Descending Dove Christian Center in King George, has helped people in the community in the same quiet way.
She's led the effort to combine all these community-minded individuals into Love Thy Neighbor and to provide year-round assistance.
"We feel it is time to amp up what we have been doing, and the community that has been helping us all along is ready," Jones said.
Starting Dec. 16, the group wants to serve a hot meal at the Citizens Center one Sunday per month, Jones said. The soup kitchen would be open from 3 to 5 p.m.
Families would each be able to take home a bag of groceries, and the group also hopes to give away coats and offer haircuts and blood-pressure checks.
For Christmas, the group wants to provide goodie bags for families with items such as gas cards, socks, scarves, gloves and hats.
The group would have about 50 volunteers in place to cook and set up the center, greet and serve those attending and clean up afterward. Both Smith and Brooks said they'd be interested in helping.
Jones said the hot meal and groceries would be available to any citizens in need, and she expects 100 to 200 families at the December meal. She told the board there's no screening process, and that "anybody who's hungry and wants a meal" is welcome.
David Coman, director of King George's Department of Social Services, said he hadn't heard about Love Thy Neighbor, "but would support it fully."
He operates a food pantry out of the Social Services office, but doesn't receive any state or federal funding for it.
Churches and businesses, school groups and Boy Scouts collect items for the pantry, which is supplemented by donations from businesses and residents "who are concerned that people may be going without," Coman said.
Shelves are getting bare, and pantries throughout the Fredericksburg area are reporting the same. That's on the eve of the holidays, when there are typically higher demands.
"My food bank is almost depleted," Coman said. "We are seeing four to six families a day now asking for food, up over last year's requests."
Jones said that her group would like to expand its offerings after it gets the soup kitchen up and running. For instance, she suggested offering more help to seniors and providing the needy with firewood.
Cathy Dyson: 540/374-5425
Oatmeal and cereal, Pop-Tarts, peanut butter and jelly, soup, pasta and sauce, macaroni and cheese, canned tuna, chicken and salmon, Tuna and Chicken Helper, canned vegetables and fruit, toilet paper and diapers, shampoo, soap, deodorant, toothpaste and brushes, laundry detergent and all-purpose cleaning products.
More information is available by contacting Karen Jones at 540/645-7331 or at firstname.lastname@example.org.