Those who rely on the Arlington Food Assistance Center (AFAC) to supplement their groceries each month will have a tasty, nutritious bonus on the horizon.
Supporters of the Kiwanis Club of Arlington purchased and then donated more than 200 10-pound boxes of blueberries, which were delivered to the food pantry’s headquarters near Shirlington June 23, not long after their picking in the fields of New Jersey.
That’s more than three times the total donated last year, and will be appreciated by those who receive them, said AFAC’s chief, Charles Meng.
“It’s for our families – we all love blueberries,” Meng said as he watched the delivery be unloaded.
During the worst of the COVID crisis last autumn, AFAC saw a 49-percent spike upward in the number of families it was serving. Now, with the economy coming back, numbers of participating families are almost back to pre-COVID levels.
“We’re doing very well. We’ve survived this year very well – we’ve had no COVID cases this year,” Meng said. “We’re now releasing folks from masking, slowly. Almost all our families have been vaccinated.”
AFAC and the Kiwanis Club of Arlington have been partners of long duration. The 200-plus boxes donated by patrons to the social-safety-net organization were part of 1,400 boxes bought during the fund-raiser. It was a total that exceeded last year’s record-setting effort by nearly 40 percent.
“It’s a good product for a good cause, and all proceeds go to programs that serve children,” said Greg Craddock, who with Julia Wright has supervised the blueberry sale since its inception. Since that first year, when sales totaled about 240 boxes, response has consistently grown.
It never hurts to have help. Craddock praised Carolyn Carlson of Data Clear for her pro-bono marketing services (“she’s dogged!” he said) as well as Donnelley Printing for its support.
Edd Nolen, a longtime member and one of the great blueberry-sellers of the club, said what was most needed as the effort continues to grow is a place to store the blueberries between their arrival from New Jersey and their distribution to the public.
“We desperately need a cool warehouse for three days,” he said. (The club currently uses a rental truck where temperatures can be regulated for storage purposes.)
For years, the main fund-raiser of the Kiwanis Club had been an oyster feast and pig roast held during the run-up to the November election. When that proved both too expensive (oysters don’t come cheap) and labor-intensive to continue, it was Wright – the club’s venerable and venerated treasurer – who borrowed the blueberry-sales idea from Kiwanis clubs in Pennsylvania. The local effort has been ongoing for eight years, using the same family-run farm as a supplier.
New Jersey has both weather and soil conducive to blueberry production, and by one calculation has the fifth largest annual output (56.7 million pounds) among the 50 states. Georgia, Washington state and Michigan vie annually for the title of national blueberry-producing champ, each in the vicinity of 90 million pounds, according to Worldatlas.com.
Is there an outer limit to the sales effort? Wright jokingly said it would grow “until everybody in Arlington has a box of blueberries – through the club or through AFAC.”
Last June, at the height of the pandemic, the Kiwanis Club adjusted its delivery procedures to comply with local, state and federal health guidelines. Unlike most other in-person fund-raisers, blueberry sales were easily adapted to the realities of COVID restrictions with social-distancing and contact-free delivery. Most of the same procedures were in place when this year’s blueberry distribution to customers took place June 24-25 at Cherrydale United Methodist Church.
In addition to AFAC, organizations that benefit from Kiwanis blueberry sales include Arlington THRIVE, PRS CrisisLink, Arlington 4-H, Arlington YMCA, the Make-a-Wish Foundation, ASPIRE After-School Learning, VHC Pediatrics, National Capital Treatment & Recovery, and many others.