Over the past couple of years, the Tree of Life center in Purcellville has perhaps been best known to western Loudoun residents as a fast-growing food pantry that has become a significant resource for those suffering hunger and lack of sufficient food to put on the family table.
Today, the Tree of Life stepped up the pace, holding a grand opening to celebrate the expansion of its programs to include more varied and deeper forms of assistance to those in need.
Before a ribbon-cutting ceremony held outside the Tree of Life premises in the Industrial Park behind the Purcellville Train Station, key Tree of Life mover and shaker Paul Smith welcomed Congressman Frank Wolf (R-VA-10), Purcellville Mayor Bob Lazaro and a crowd of supporters, volunteers and well-wishers to the event.
Noting the food pantry has been in business for a couple of years, Smith announced several new initiatives, including serving a free cooked meal from 5:30-6:30 p.m. each Thursday at the center.
Also on Thursdays, Smith said the center would offer life-skills training, where individuals could learn English, how to budget or how to prepare for a job interview. The organization also now has a shelter, where five women and their children can stay, in town. A free clothing and furniture give-away program is also planned.
Other expansions include the services of a health and wellness team, whose members will help people through the process so they can know where to get health and dental services. Smith said the organization hopes to persuade local health professionals to offer their services at a subsidized rate. Smith said a big dream for Tree of Life is to extend assistance, financial and otherwise, to special needs individuals.
“We want to provide a safe environment,” he said. The expanded programs are in the early stages, but they’ve been done by “a pure, amazing army of volunteers …they’re unbelievable,” he said. And maybe what’s happening in Purcellville could be a model for other areas.
Lazaro welcomed Wolf to Purcellville, noting he has been a longtime supporter of food pantries and assistance programs around the county. Despite 300 new jobs being created in town last year and Purcellville’s low unemployment rate, need is always present; the mayor cited the 500 people who turned up at the town’s last job fair, looking for work. He said he was thankful for the “great partnership” between the town and local businesses and organizations such as Tree of Life.
Citing Loudoun as reportedly the wealthiest county in the country, “yet there is still tremendous hunger,” Wolf said. He noted that nationwide, the food stamp program is at an all-time high. “Any one of us could lose our job at any moment,” he said, adding food pantry representatives have told him many of those now waiting in line to get food, formerly were those donating supplies.
Feeding the hungry is an important and huge job, Wolf said, saying it is the churches that have born the brunt of meeting the challenge. “They do the greatest job,” the congressman said. But,
if every school, every business, every law firm—especially in the summer when schools are out—ran a food drive; if every farmer donated an acre for the Scouts or civic groups to grow food on, it would make a huge difference, Wolf said.
Speaking on the larger-scale economy, it will be rough, he predicted, “until we resolve those issues,” including entitlements.
But the mood in Purcellville remained ebullient as everyone trooped outside with Vice Mayor Joan Lehr and Councilman Tom Priscilla joining the mayor in the traditional ribbon-cutting ceremony.
Even that was not all, as four members of the western Loudoun high school choral group Songbirds sang “Amazing Grace.” And amazing it was, as the girls began in unison with a traditional performance of the well-known hymn then seguéd into a dazzling blend of elegant and beautiful harmonies.
Their performance over, they presented Tree of Life Ministry with a facsimile check of almost $1,400, funds they had raised from a benefit concert several Sundays ago at Franklin Park.