D.C. residents line up for coronavirus testing at Bread for the City in Northwest on May 19. (Roy Lewis/The Washington Informer)
**FILE** D.C. residents line up for coronavirus testing at Bread for the City in Northwest on May 19, 2020. (Roy Lewis/The Washington Informer)

For the past 25 years, Bread for the City has been a charitable hub for needy District families, and now with the spread of the coronavirus, platoons of volunteers are going house to house to meet the demand for food.

But despite the demand, George Jones, Bread for the City CEO, said things could not be busier and that this is what his hero, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., would have wanted.

“Typically, 5,000 families a month come to our facilities,” Jones, 59, said. “But at the beginning of the pandemic, we were forced to deliver groceries because we didn’t think it was safe for people to come to the pantry because of physical distancing.”

In addition to delivering groceries to between 300 and 500 families five days a week, Jones said people come to their two facilities — at 1640 Good Hope Road in Southeast and 1575 7th Street NW — for a variety of services.

“Our mission is to feed the hungry, care for sick and fight for justice,” said Jones, adding that when it comes to social justice, “we are advocates with the people and not just for the people.”

Since the outbreak of the coronavirus began, the program’s medical staff has administered COVID-19 tests weekly. This summer, Bread for the City will open a third building that will be a 27,000-square-foot facility with expanded medical services.

Normally, people getting services at Bread for the City need to be 200 percent below poverty, but in the wake of the pandemic, no one is being turned away.

“We’re now delivering food directly to the homes of our clients who are sheltering in place — 1,000-2,000 deliveries a week,” Jones said. “Plus, we’re working with Mutual Aid Societies to get food to senior centers and other networks of people we wouldn’t otherwise reach, and we’re providing grocery bags to smaller nonprofits like Pathways to Housing, DASH, and House of Ruth.”

Jones said his primary care clinic is open for limited hours for urgent care appointments and COVID-19 testing. They are also holding a walk-up, barriers-free COVID-19 testing center from 1 p.m. to 3 p.m., Tuesdays and Thursdays in the organization’s northwest center parking lot.

“We’re hoping to test 100 people a week through this effort,” Jones said. “Last week we tested 110 people between our clinic and walk-up tests, and nearly 30 percent tested positive. So we know this is a huge need in our community.”

Jones said his motivation comes from remembering his humble beginnings growing up in a Norfolk, Va., public housing project. He would go on to graduate from Norfolk State University, earning a psychology degree in 1982.

“My real inspiration was Dr. King,” he said, citing the civil rights icon’s famous quote, “the moral arc of the universe is long, but it bends toward justice.”

“This is just that people who are in need get support,” Jones said. “We think that’s our mission — not to advocate for the people — but use our voice to advocate with our community members.”

Jones estimates that combined efforts will cost $1.8 million more than their operating budget — primarily in food and COVID-19 test needs, as well as scaling up their digital infrastructure so that staff can best do their jobs remotely.

“We believe that many of the innovative solutions we’re putting in place due to this crisis will actually serve our clients well when we return to normal,” Jones said.

Hamil R. Harris

Hamil Harris is an award-winning journalist who worked at the Washington Post from 1992 to 2016. During his tenure he wrote hundreds of stories about the people, government and faith communities in the...

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