Heidi's Pantry helps military Families budget while providing nutrition
October 4, 2012
FORT BELVOIR, VA (Oct. 4)--One military Spouse at Woodlawn Village is doing what she can to help her neighbors stretch their food budgets.
Christine Vance, started a group she calls Heidi's Pantry in February.
Residents in Woodlawn Village are providing fresh bread, fruits and vegetables to military Families to help them stretch their budgets.
Heidi's Pantry allows military Families to come to Vance's home every Friday and take loaves of bread, bagels, canned goods and fresh produce, free of charge.
"Military Families have larger Families now, so paychecks don't stretch as far as they used to," said Vance. "It helps because it helps stretch your food budget, but it also helps get the grains and the vegetables and fruits you give up."
Vance picks up leftover bread from the Lorton Food Bank every Friday morning, which contains breads from Shoppers, Wegmans, Great Harvest, Costco, Food Lion, Safeway and Panera. The Food Bank also receives sweet potatoes, cabbage, cantaloupe and other fruits and vegetables from the local Farmers Market, which Vance takes and provides to Families.
Providing these items to residents at no cost allows them to spread their money to other areas of their household budget.
"If you need to put tires on your car, the money comes from your grocery budget," said Vance. "Through this, parents can get the healthy foods their children need and not always have to give them Ramen (noodles), Mac and Cheese, and the quick meals that are high in sodium."
Jessica Donaldson of Lewis Village has a two-and-a-half year-old son with a neurological disorder, and a three month old son. Having a service like Vance's has been a great help, according to Donaldson.
"To be able to come over here and get a few cans of formula and other items is very beneficial because it's money saved I can use elsewhere," said Donaldson. "This has benefitted my Family tremendously."
Erica Welch of Dogue Creek has used Vance's service since the spring and is appreciative of Vance's sacrifice, considering Vance has her own Family to raise.
"Christine said she gets negative feedback from people sometimes, but I think it's amazing how she opens up her home to people," said Welch. "She has six children of her own, but takes time away from them to help other Families."
The group is named after a friend of Vance's who passed away unexpectedly two years ago.
"She took people into her home, would feed them, and let them live there, if they needed a place to stay," said Vance. "She was always so giving and I thought, what better way to keep her alive than to name our program after her."
Leigh Sperier, Woodlawn Village resident, is one of the original beneficiaries of the program having gone through a tough personal time one year ago. She stayed involved with the program because she wants to see Families receive the help they need.
"I heard of a couple that had to move here because the husband is a wounded (Soldier). The Army didn't pay for his Family to be here, so they moved her by themselves," said Sperier. "The wife looked at me one day and said, 'Why do you guys do what you do?' I said, 'Because, we are all in the same situation. We all have to move every two-three years and meet new people. We all go through kids and deployments and all that stuff. We all need to support each other.'"
Vance originally took the leftover bread from the Food Bank and brought it to Families in her neighborhood, which is about 12 Families. After a month, the Food Bank began to give her produce and other items. Plus, word was starting to get out about Vance's efforts and more people wanted to take advantage of it.
"I posted on one of the Fort Belvoir sites and let everyone know, if they wanted anything, it is free," said Vance. "That's basically how it got started."
As it grew, the local farmers markets began donating produce and the USO gave Vance the leftovers from their monthly food drive.
The group has expanded its services as well. It provides meal trains for Families with a deployed or wounded spouse, where they provide the Family with a meal every few days.
Heidi's pantry has also adopted a wounded servicemember program out of Bethesda Medical Center to provide servicemembers with Gatorade, energy bars and individually wrapped treats to help them through their rehabilitation programs.
Vance said the growth of her program is an example of how the military community should behave.
"This shows there was a need for this," said Vance. "People are kind and generous and want to help, but if they don't know who needs the help they can't do anything about it."
Heidi's Pantry also provides stuffed animals to local Emergency Rooms for scared children who come in for help.
Vance, with the help of the Woodlawn Parent Teacher Organization, is hoping to do a toy drive in December and is gathering jackets to provide to surrounding schools that have children who need clothes for the winter.
"The Woodlawn PTO has been a huge supporter of what we do and are planning to continue to help us out," said Vance. "I feel that since the local communities support us we need to support them back."