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Community asked to help get weekend food program for kids back on track

Herbert Hoover, 31st President of the Uited States, said, “Children are our most valuable resource.” That is what Dave and Joan Gifford believed as they started the Crossroads Connection Weekend Food Program in 2010. It started by serving six children at Mt. View Elementary School. Seven years later, after partnering with Riverside Presbyterian Church in Sterling, it now serves more than 80 children in eight schools.

Shepherd of the Hills Lutheran Church (SOTH) in Haymarket has become the new partnering church this school year.

Dave said, “Last year, after much thought and prayer, Joan and I decided to ask if Shepherd of the Hills would like to take on the entire operation of Crossroads-Connection. The SOTH church responded enthusiastically. It saw it as an opportunity for local mission work.  We began in earnest to discuss transition and what that would entail.”
He added, “In late May, the accountants at Riverside and SOTH met to discuss finances so that by January 1, 2019 SOTH could assume full responsibility for the program.  This included discussions on the transfer of some funds in August as SOTH took over shopping. Giving to Crossroads-Connection has been very good this year and by July 31, as we budgeted for the 2018-2019 school year, we were blessed with over $30,000 to purchase food, sufficient for as many as 100 food-insecure children in Haymarket and Gainesville public schools and perhaps more.”

The program relies solely on contributions and volunteers. Before making a commitment to serve the schools, it makes sure it has collected enough before the school year starts.

A devasting blow happened to the program in September when the transfer of funds from Riverside Presbyterian Church to SOTH was planned. The transfer of $25,000 was taken by unknown hackers during the course of the transfer. The FBI, Loudoun and Prince William County police departments are all investigating the fraud.

Dave believes, “Someone managed to hack into my email address or that of a program volunteer from SOTH.  In late July, we began communicating with the accountant at Riverside about the need to transfer some money from Riverside to SOTH for the purchase of food.

Information exchanged included a July 31 statement on account balances and an agreement to send a check to SOTH church.  A specific amount and date were not part of the discussion.
“By August 7, hindsight is 20/20 of course, it seems the hacker had secretly begun to change the course of events, skillfully excluding or manipulating email addresses so that he/she was able to deceive the Riverside accountant regarding the transfer, how it would be done, and how much ($25,000).
“Whereas her [the accountant’s] understanding originally was to write and mail a check to SOTH, the hacker introduced a plan to transfer it by wire.

“The hacker managed to convince the Riverside accountant fraudulently that she was communicating with the SOTH volunteer, and that I and SOTH’s accountant were fully aware of these communications.  We were not.  Surprised, but not alarmed, the Riverside accountant agreed to set up a wire transfer through the church’s bank.  This was set for August 13th and completed that day.”

He added, “ The hacker was able somehow to hide the fraudulent emails made in the name of the SOTH volunteer who did not discover this or realize the theft until August 30th.  When she did, she informed the accountant at Riverside and called me [while visiting] in Montana. Of course, it was much too late to stop the transfer.”

Mt. View, Gravely, Tyler, Buckland Mills, Piney Branch, and Glenkirk Elementary schools, as well as PACE West School and Bull Run Middle School are the current schools the Weekend Food Program is committed to helping for the 2018-19 school year.

The need is great now because of the loss of funds. The community can help in two ways.

“We need donations to ensure we can realize our commitment to children we know are in need.  Despite the loss and acting on faith, we are committed now to serve 90 children in the current school year.  At approximately $250 per child per a 42-weekend school year, that’s $22,500.  After the theft, we were left with about a third of that for food,” said Dave.

Another need is every month the program can use between 20 and 30 volunteers to help by shopping , packing and then delivering the food.

Dave said, “We have one person responsible for shopping.  She needs help.  As you know, we operate out of our basement.  That means getting food unloaded and down a flight of stairs and stacked in our basement, so it’s ready for packing.  About 18 people are needed in the packing process. which means opening packages, stocking the tables, packing the food bags, recycling packaging materials, and carrying boxes of food bags upstairs to the garage for loading into cars.  Finally, eight people are needed to deliver the food to the schools.”

Along with the many elderly volunteers the program needs younger people who can donate their time and heft the food up and down the stairs.

SignUpGenius is used to manage the volunteers, so that many people can be involved over time.

The Giffords and the two churches have not heard back from law enforcement authorities as to the findings of the investigation.

Dave said, “The range of emotions my wife and I have felt since we were informed of the theft on August 30, has been all over the scale.  We were devastated, especially since it appeared in early August that we would be able to transition the program to Shepherd of the Hills Lutheran Church on a solid footing financially.
“But mistakes were made, and I can see that clearly today.  Whether or not the stolen money is ever returned, we must move forward.  I believe God has been pleased with what we have been able to do, but there is a need to continue.  We have taken steps to secure communications since the discovery, including new passwords all around, and securing our website.  And we’re more careful about what we say and communicate via email.”

Dave and Joan said they are very appreciative of the trust and confidence people have placed in the program. “The community of Heritage Hunt in particular, but also the people of Gainesville and Haymarket, have all contributed to making the Weekend Food Program a success.  We are indebted to them and hope they will continue to support the program so that children in need may have food to eat.”

Currently financial donations can be made through the end of the year, 12/31/2018, to Riverside Presbyterian Church, with Crossroads-Connection in the memo line.  Please mail it to the Giffords at 5960 Piney Grove Way, Gainesville, VA 20155-6680.

On January1, 2019 this will change to Shepherd of the Hills, the Giffords will announce this well in advance of the changeover.

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