Participants of Didlake’s Center Point Day Support Program in Manassas, Va. engage in their community and serve people in need by volunteering at the House of Mercy food pantry and thrift store. House of Mercy, which is celebrating its 15th anniversary this year, is a Manassas, Va.-based Catholic nonprofit that is dedicated to feeding, clothing, educating and praying for those in need.
“Anyone who walks through our door and says they need help, as long as we can, we help them. We only have five full-time and three part-time staff members so we really rely on our regular volunteers and groups like Didlake,” said Jessica Root, Executive Director, House of Mercy.
Volunteering at the Food Pantry
At the food pantry, the Didlake team often creates non-perishable item bags, repackaging 50-pound bags of rice, cereal and beans into quart-sized portions, vacuum sealing them, and placing them on the pantry shelves in larger bags containing a bag of each item. They also help food donors unload their cars, organize food donations, bag diapers, prepare food for mobile food pantry distribution, wash bins and clean the floor.
“I enjoy bagging the rice and beans. I like that I’m helping people. I’m proud that we can all work together,” said Corky, who is one of Didlake’s regular volunteers at House of Mercy.
“I get to work [volunteer], and get out and help out,” said Kookie, whose favorite volunteer duty is to bag cereal. “I’m proud that we do a good job and people like that we help them.”
Sissy, also a volunteer, echoed the same sentiment. “[Volunteering] means I help others and don’t want nothing for it.” Sissy added, “I like when I get to seal the bags.”
Giving Back at the Thrift Store
At the thrift store, volunteers organize clothes, hang them on racks organized by store section and deliver them to the corresponding section of the store. Didlake paused volunteering at the thrift store due to the pandemic, but plans to resume soon.
“The staff here is wonderful. They really believe in helping individuals. They know our guys by first name. It’s like walking in a church; it has a good feel. It’s definitely a good fit for our team,” said John “JJ” Jenkins, Program Services Assistant II, Didlake.
Cultivating a Partnership that Builds the Community
Volunteering is a key component of Didlake’s Day Support Program. It provides an opportunity for participants to build employment and interpersonal skills while giving back to the community. Didlake seeks volunteer opportunities that match the interests of individuals in its Day Support Programs. As part of that process, Didlake reached out to House of Mercy about 4.5 years ago to inquire about opportunities.
“We did a walkthrough with their coaches and showed them the different jobs available. We did a test with, I think, five individuals sorting and hanging clothes. They did a wonderful job and had a blast hanging things and finding them as well,” said Von Barron, Operations Manager, House of Mercy. “It started from that one group and expanded to three groups coming three times a week. Other groups wanted to do something different so they started doing food packing for us. Not only did they have fun, but our other volunteers also had a great time working with them. It is a win for everyone. They are always so happy to be here helping out and they do great work for us.”
A Ministry Called to Action
House of Mercy originated from a prayer ministry led by Kellie Ross and Father Jack Fullen. They recognized the need in the area for basic necessities like food and clothing, and decided to expand the ministry to provide much-needed services, demonstrating God’s love and mercy by providing food, clothing and other items.
“We started out as a prayer ministry and brought those who were in the ministry to action. They brought food and clothing to those in Washington, D.C. who were experiencing homelessness, washing their feet and praying with them. Pretty soon, they did not have the space for all of the items being donated so they moved to where we are now about 8-10 years ago, expanded gradually, and now we have a full thrift store and pantry,” Root said.
Continuing to Serve Throughout the Pandemic
Fast forward 15 years, House of Mercy continues to serve people in Northern Virginia, primarily in Prince William County, where an estimated one in six people are food insecure, according to Feeding America. In FY2020, House of Mercy served 20,680 Northern Virginians, providing $772,015 in food aid, $34,082 in clothing aid and $87,133 other aid. This represented a significant increase from prior years. During the stay-at-home order in Virginia, House of Mercy assisted 54 percent more people than it did during the same period the prior year.
While clients increased dramatically, there was a huge decrease in volunteers. Only a few were allowed on site during the stay-at home-order and only about 30 percent have since returned. The thrift store closed for three months, but the food pantry stayed open throughout the pandemic.
“We were literally creating rice and bean bags as people came in the door,” recalled Sophia Crooks, Program Manager, House of Mercy. Staff quickly realized they needed to upgrade the small food packing operation so they repurposed a classroom and formed an assembly line with scales and sealers.
Didlake and House of Mercy
While Didlake’s Day Support Programs were closed at the start of the pandemic, some Didlake staff members volunteered for House of Mercy and led food drives in their neighborhoods. Among them was Jillian Jones, Program Services Assistant.
“I passed out flyers to all the houses in my neighborhood and then arranged pickup times for the ones who wanted to donate. I then dropped the food off at House of Mercy. I also volunteered to pick up the twice-a-week bread donation from Great Harvest bread company in Warrenton,” Jones said.
“Even during the pandemic, Didlake has been right there for us, helping us out the entire time,” Barron said.
“They are a powerhouse, for sure,” Crooks added. “They have helped us a lot over the years, and they are always in great spirits.”
Support Northern Virginians in need by volunteering at House of Mercy. There are a variety of positions available at the food pantry, thrift store and donation center. National Volunteer Week, April 18-24, is the perfect time to get involved.
Another way to support House of Mercy’s mission is to organize a community drive for food, diapers and wipes, or socks and underwear. A third way is to donate clothes and houseware items in good condition. Finally, shop the thrift store and spread the word to increase customers. House of Mercy resells, reuses or recycles 95 percent of donated items. All thrift store proceeds go toward feeding and helping those in need.