By Jennifer Vazquez
During the economic hard times we face as a country, there is a level of comfort in knowing that there are benevolent individuals and organizations striving to assist those in need. One such institution is First Presbyterian Church of Arlington at 663 Kearny Ave.
When walking through the halls of the church and meeting the parishioners and the pastor, Rev. Elaine Connolly, one instantly feels at home and realizes that their beneficence is not limited to those that share the same faith, but is extended to all who need a helping hand during trying times.
“We don’t just help someone from the church or from just our faith,” Deacon Mary Lynn Pettigrew said. “We help all who need it.
The church’s food pantry is fairly new – having opened roughly two years ago. At first, customers were few and far between; however, as of today, First Presbyterian has the privilege of serving 40 individuals and families.
“The first couple of weeks, we had no one come in,” Connolly explained. “Slowly, word got around. We now have a regular list of about 40 (people) who visit the pantry.”
While the pantry has a multitude of different foods and personal hygiene toiletries, there are some essentials that are quite popular and which Connolly always welcomes as donations.
Some of the items most commonly sought are rice, powdered milk and cereal. However, the church welcomes any non-perishable goods, along with toilet paper, diapers, toothpaste, shampoo and all personal hygiene products – which the pantry has just started providing.
Because Connolly and Deacon John Macartney understand the sense of embarrassment experienced by pantry clients about their unfortunate circumstances, they provide them with a separate entrance to the pantry.
“No one sees them coming (into the pantry) or leaving,” Macartney said. “It’s more private.”
The pantry is open every Friday between noon and 1 p.m. However, accommodations are always made.
“We have a few people who call and they are way too self-conscious,” Connolly said. “They talk with me and they ask if they can come down at a certain time and we help them out.”
First Presbyterian also operates a thrift store located on the church’s second floor. The thrift store carries clothing, handbags, jewelry, shoes, school uniforms, knickknacks, toys and even prom dresses during prom time, among countless other items. Some of the items that have passed through the thrift store are designer labels; however, all items are “lightly used” – meaning that products are in relatively new condition.
So successful has the thrift store become, that the church has expanded it to the point where it takes up the majority of the floor – slowly overtaking adjacent rooms and hallways.
“We started off in this one room,” Connelly explained. “Over time, the space ended up not being big enough!”
While visiting the thrift store, a regular client, Antoinette Job, was checking out the carefully hung clothes.
“I come here frequently,” Job said. “They do great work here.”
All proceeds from the thrift store go back into the church’s program – thus maintaining its ability to continue helping others.
Connolly is quick to point out the important role played by community members in fostering the vibrancy of both the pantry and the thrift store.
“None of what we do and the help we provide would be possible without every single person that has taken the time to donate their time, money or items to help those that are temporarily facing a hard time,” the pastor said.
However, Connolly notes that it’s human nature, at times, to let one’s pride get in the way of seeking out help; therefore, she hopes and urges all individuals who are in need to put their pride aside and ask for help.
“I would like to tell all to not be ashamed,” she said. “You are not asking for handouts. We are a community and as a community we need to help each other. We help you out today and when you are back on your feet you’ll help another (person).”
One of the most enticing and attractive aspect surrounding the work that First Presbyterian does is the fact that its facilities are immaculate and that church staff’s attitude and friendliness towards those in need is truly sincere and never demeaning – both aspects that display respect towards all who seek aid and guidance at the church.
If you would like to assist in contributing to First Presbyterian Church of Arlington’s food pantry or thrift store, or you are in need, call the church at 201-991-3513.