March 20, 2013; Source: Lorton Patch

Sometimes small articles make you realize that citizens can do big things. The Lorton Patch published a squib about the Lorton Community Action Center (LCAC) in Lorton, Va. giving its Founders Award to Christine Herbstreith. Herbstreith was one of the Lortonians who came together to create LCAC in 1975 because, in her case, she was concerned about the increase in the number of free and reduced lunch program students at a local elementary school. LCAC didn’t even get its first paid staff member until 1983-1984 and even now it operates with a small staff of five full-time and five part-time employees. These employees run a food assistance program, a thrift store, holiday and school supply distributions, and a financial assistance program of emergency loans (generally $200 or less in a 12-month period per borrower). The program also provides grants to assist families with utilities, rent, mortgage, medical services and other essential needs.

The emergency loan program is interesting in that, rather than piling more debt onto lower income families, LCAC allows “loans…[to] be repaid through volunteering with an organization other than LCAC, or attending a budgeting/financial literacy course.” Without a doubt, the charity that Herbstreith helped to start means a lot to poor people in southern Fairfax County, Va. It’s not a philanthropic foundation and it may not do a lot of advocacy, but for the poor people in what is otherwise one of the nation’s wealthiest suburban counties, it is undoubtedly a welcome avenue of neighbor-to-neighbor support and sustenance. —Rick Cohen