Ed. note: The piece has been edited to remove unsupported statements about the recipients of the pantry’s services.
For more than a year now, mutual aid volunteers have stepped up to fill a very real need in Ward 3 for a food pantry. However, the Feed the Family Pantry is about to lose its temporary home at 4225 Connecticut Avenue, in space donated by UDC, the holder of the master lease. Petula Dvorak’s July 7th Washington Post column called attention to the Feed the Family Pantry’s need for a new home, the volunteers who have stepped up to provide food and other necessities, and to Ward 3 residents for whom this is a vital service.
A few days after Dvorak’s column was published, an update to the pantry’s Change.org petition said UDC has agreed to extend the food pantry’s stay at 4225 Connecticut through August, and assist in the search for a new Ward 3 location.
We’ve asked UDC to confirm. And if true, it is laudable. However, UDC should not get the blame for the pantry’s pending move, nor should it bear the responsibility for what ultimately is the result of a dearth of support services in Ward 3, and poor planning by the mayor.
Ward 3 Mutual Aid and similar volunteer-led aid organizations sprang up in the first weeks of the pandemic to provide critical services missing from the Bowser administration’s Covid-19 response: food and other aid for people dealing with the losses of jobs and family members to the coronavirus.
The need continued to be so great in this part of DC, and the aid options so few, that a year ago, Ward 3 Mutual Aid and Feed the Family established the Feed the Family Pantry, relying solely on donors and volunteers to stock and distribute cleaning supplies, personal care items, shelf-stable food, and fresh produce from the UDC Van Ness farmers market. Dvorak’s column made it clear that the need has not lessened in that time, with more than the usual number of aid recipients lining up one recent Sunday.
Since May 2021, UDC has been housing the food pantry at 4225 Connecticut for free, with the understanding that the arrangement would end once it leased out the building. It did not have to, but it did.
To take a wider view, UDC has consistently filled gaps for our community, which is not part of its mission. The university has provided Van Ness Main Street with a free home since the Main Street group’s inception. Were it not for UDC, VNMS would not have a venue for its popular summer movie nights. UDC, prior to the pandemic, hosted the monthly ANC 3F meetings, also free of charge. (And yes, the community’s use of the refurbished tennis courts is a work in progress, but I have confidence that will get worked out.)
UDC deserves credit for its community work, and the onus should be on Mayor Bowser and her agencies to either make volunteer aid efforts like the Feed the Family Pantry unnecessary, or provide the support they need to continue their work. We’d like The Washington Post to write that story, too.
Feed the Family Pantry continues to collect and distribute cleaning supplies, personal care items and shelf-stable foods. Sturdy shopping bags are also appreciated, and it is collecting monetary donations through GoFundMe and via PayPal at feedthefamilydc.org. Donated items can be dropped off on Saturdays and Sundays from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. The pantry distributes donated items on Sundays from 1 to 3 p.m.