As Ministry Coordinator Kurt Nguyen explains, “Caring about the lives of our recipient families is what we do. BridgeFeeds makes connections and builds relationships with families daily to ensure they know they are not alone. We want to give people a sense of dignity and normalcy in an otherwise abnormal situation that they may be in.” Giant Food has supported this nonprofit through its Bloomin’ 4 Good program.
Tell us about BridgeFeeds.
BridgeFeeds was founded eight years ago, but my wife and I took over the ministry three years ago in 2019. Our mission is to help families in need of food assistance throughout Loudon County, Virginia.
We had a very humble beginning. The founder got connected with a food network in our local area, and we were able to start bringing in food from grocery chains around here. The founder initially operated out of her home before transitioning to our current location in Ashburn, Virginia.
When my wife Julie and I took over BridgeFeeds three years ago, the pantry did around 30,000 pounds in the first year. Last year we increased to about 50,000 and are now on track to do about 75,000 pounds of food by the end of the year. It has been quite a trajectory for us, primarily due to the economic inflation within the food industry. We see so many more food-insecure individuals.
What services do you provide to the community?
Our core service is providing food assistance in the form of various items that we gather and collect as a team throughout the week.
That includes everything from fresh produce to dairy products, to loaves of bread, some salads and then on occasion, meat whenever it’s available. Then we package and distribute it every Monday to our recipient families throughout Loudon County.
What sets you apart from other organizations in your community?
One thing that sets us apart is our Ashburn location. We’re centrally located in Loudon County, which makes it a lot easier for people to get to us from anywhere within our surrounding areas or even, in some cases, outside of the region.
What makes us unique is how we perceive our role as a food pantry and how we approach food assistance. Over the years, my wife and I have learned a lot from volunteering at many different food pantries, so we wanted to bring that knowledge with us when we took over BridgeFeeds. It comes down to a fundamental thought: no one wants to come to a food pantry unless they have to, and for some people, this makes them feel like they have done something wrong in life to end up here. Unfortunately, there can be an initial feeling of shame or guilt when visiting a food pantry. We try to make the experience of coming to our food pantry a safe and stress-free experience. We do little things like greeting everybody by their first name and asking how their day is going. It sounds simple, but it makes a huge difference. Our volunteers are encouraged to say hi and welcome everyone that comes through the door; it can put people at ease.
Another area that we focus on is how we package our food. Taking care and dignity in how things are put together is very important. It is simple but essential: we package and distribute our food in grocery bags. When families come to pick up, they can feel like they are taking food home from a grocery store, not just items thrown into a random brown box.
To go hand and hand with packing our food properly, we also strive to provide families with a nice complete variety of food. We are incredibly thankful for any food offered to the pantry, from typical dry goods to fresh produce and meats. Our primary goal is to deliver fresh, nutritious and diverse food to these families. Quality is everything; at the end of the day, it’s more than just food. Caring about the lives of our recipient families is what we do. BridgeFeeds makes connections and builds relationships with families daily to ensure they know they are not alone. We want to give people a sense of dignity and normalcy in an otherwise abnormal situation that they may be in.
What makes us unique is how we perceive our role as a food pantry and how we approach food assistance.
Tell us a story that illustrates the good work of your organization.
It was initially challenging to get the word out about the pantry. Loudon County is a huge area with many communities. Fortunately, several of our volunteers happen to be schoolteachers in the county. With these excellent teachers’ help, we could connect with the school’s parent liaisons in several areas. These liaisons are the first line of defense for students and families in need. This connection has allowed us to be the first point of contact for many children and families needing food assistance.
Because of our communications with the school system, we can be a valuable resource for families in need. Building this working relationship with these parent liaisons in several schools in the county has created trust, and they now have become a great referral resource for just sending families. We have built up an excellent pipeline of families that continually come to BridgeFeeds for food assistance, and we are so grateful for this beautiful connection.
What is your most outstanding achievement or contribution to the community?
There’s still a lot of work to be done. We see more and more families coming into our doors because the current economy impacts them.
One great thing we have accomplished this year is getting more exposure and connecting and partnering with local government, schools and other nonprofits. We have been able to make so many extraordinarily supportive and helpful connections within Loudon County, and just being able to work with the community to fight food insecurity has been a significant achievement for our organization.
When a family comes to us and says that they got a job or were able to move into a better home and no longer need assistance from BridgeFeeds, that is the definition of success for us. Along the way, we were able to help someone get through these struggles, and bringing the number of food insecure down is so rewarding.
When a family comes to us and says that they got a job or were able to move into a better home and no longer need assistance from BridgeFeeds, that is the definition of success for us.
What do you want people to know about BridgeFeeds?
With this incredible growth, we have a new website that is more robust featuring new resources and an easier way to contact us. The website is www.bridgefeeds.org, and our direct phone number is (571) 353-9842. BridgeFeeds wants individuals to know we are here to help and have the resources and contact information to make accessing us as easy as possible. When you are experiencing food insecurity, finding resources is essential and one of our top priorities.
How will you use the funds raised from the Giant Food Bloomin’ 4 Good Program?
Every dollar makes a difference, and we’re so thankful for that. Primarily these funds go into our food operations budget to keep everything going. The Giant Food Bloomin’ 4 Good Program donations support the supplies and general maintenance needed to keep our doors open to provide people with much-needed food.
Is there anything you’d like to add?
We are very grateful to Giant Food for partnering with us through the Bloomin’ 4 Good Program; it has been an excellent way to get our name out. The team here gets so excited when we are selected, and we can see the number of people who support BridgeFeeds. We love to promote through email, flyers and social media, and we see the results. We thoroughly enjoy being a part of this program!
We would also like to express our gratitude to our helpers, major partners including Acacia Church, Mount Hope Church, Blue Ridge Area Food Bank, Loudoun Hunger Relief, Celestial Manna and Food Donation Connection for their generous support.
Click here for a short video that illustrates the work that we do.
Kurt Nguyen is Ministry Coordinator of BridgeFeeds. He assumed responsibility for the ministry in 2019 together with his wife Julie.