Not long ago, the small storefront at 13926 Metrotech Drive, just off Route 50 in Chantilly, was empty. But earlier last week, it transformed into a bustling center of activity where nearly 100 volunteers worked to pack and distribute nearly 1,600 backpacks for local kids in need.
Northern Virginia Family Service (NVFS), a nonprofit community service organization that helps nearly 33,000 individuals and families with various needs every year, set up temporary quarters there while volunteers conducted the annual Back to School Drive. The owner of the plaza had donated temporary use of the space.
"We're already in touch with the people in the community who have the greatest need," said Graham Marsden, director of agency communications. He added: "This drive is largely to make sure that our clients are taken care of."
And when it's time to go back to school, those needs tend to revolve around no. 2 pencils, composition books, graphing calculators, glue sticks and similar items. The backpacks are filled with the things kids need at different grade levels. Some are donated; others NVFS purchases with steep discounts various stores grant to nonprofits.
"They're happy. They're excited," said Alicia Giz-Leiva, of Bristow, about her children's reaction to getting a new backpack. Her 13-year-old twins and 5-year-old had just gotten them, and paused to pose for a picture from a reporter, while her 4-year-old stood nearby.
"It helps me out a lot," Giz-Leiva said about the backpacks and other assistance.
Jennifer Halsey, of Bristow, who has three children, said her situation recently became more difficult when her husband was diagnosed with a terminal heart condition. She got help with rent, food and other things through SERVE, the Manassas campus for NVFS. Without that, she said she didn't know how she'd have made it.
"It's been a lifeline for the past three months," said Halsey, who brought her 10 and 6-year-olds to pick up backpacks.
Tonya Smith, who got involved with NVFS through her work, First Virginia Community Bank in Manassas, said volunteering had given her perspective.
"I guess I never realized how great the need was before I volunteered," she said.