The Lorton Community Action Center: A Staple in the Community Since 1975
By: Diane M. Ross February 28, 2016
Volunteers and donations continue to drive The Lorton Community
Action Center as it works to meet the needs of a diverse population of varying ages and ethnicities in Lorton.
Using the slogan “A Hand-up, Not a Hand-out”, the center’s primary goal is to break the cycle of poverty and homelessness. What started as a volunteer organization working out of a local school back in 1975 has transformed into a staff of six full-time and four part-time employees and a 2,000 square foot food building with a walk-in refrigerator and freezer, according to their website.
“We are a one-stop shop for low-income residents,” said Ryan Brown, director of client services for the action center, during a phone interview. Brown said their food pantry is one of the largest in the area. “We allow individuals to come once a week whereas most in the area are usually once a month,” he said.
Between the months of October and December of last year, the center distributed 17,908 bags of food to residents in need, according to their Facebook page.
But the center provides more than just food. Lorton’s Attic, a thrift store featuring household goods and clothes, is just a block away. It offers 25 percent off discounts for low income residents, Brown said.
The center also helps its clients become self-sufficient through a variety of resources. It provides pro-bono legal services, food/nutrition and budgeting classes, and and free tutoring for kids in kindergarten through 12th grade, according to its website.
Brown said most residents struggle with paying for their rent and utilities. “We offer financial assistance. They can come see me directly and we can give them a certain amount of aid,” Brown said. If they qualify, the action center can send a check directly to the bill collector, Brown said.
The center offers free lunch for all school-age children during the summer, citing that many don’t have access to multiple meals a day when they aren’t in school, Brown said.
“We have about 700 volunteers throughout the year,” Brown said. Volunteers range from regular individuals who have a set schedule to students fulfilling volunteer hours for school. Brown also noted that some volunteers come through the court system.
“It takes 100 volunteers to run the pantry, 40 for the thrift store and 15 for tutoring,” said Linda Patterson, executive director of the center. “There are lots of ways to engage. Anyone can volunteer. Just find what you’re passionate about,” Patterson said.
This year’s Spring Gala is scheduled for April 9th, 2016 and will take place at Harbour View along the Occoquan River. Brandi Simpson, director of development for the action center, is organizing this year’s event, which will feature a cocktail hour, silent auction, dinner, and dancing.
There is also a steady flow of donations from companies like Panera, Trader Joe’s, and local grocery stores, “but the Gala is our biggest fundraiser of the year,” Brown said.
The Gala has been known to generate over $120,000 for the center, which helps fund operating costs, the food pantry and client services, according to their website.
“We anticipate 230-240 people at the upcoming Gala,” Patterson said.