In 2017, ACCA Celebrated 50 Years of Community Action for the Poor.
Fred & Emily Ruffing, 1976
The year was 1967. Fred Ruffing of Alexandria was faced with a dilemma. Fred and his wife Emily worked with a government-subsidized day care center in Mount Pleasant Baptist Church. However, low-income families who left welfare and obtained jobs were no longer eligible for subsidized daycare for their children. Without such daycare, they would be forced to stop working and go back on welfare.
Faced with this “Catch-22” situation, Fred and Emily decided to do something about it. They organized a meeting with representatives of eight local churches to set up a day care center to provide assistance to the working poor. They marshaled support from the county and from local donors. They succeeded in meeting the need, and the organization they founded – the Annandale Christian Community for Action – branched out into other activities, all under the banner of “doing what Jesus would do”. Over time, the organization that started with eight churches grew until it reached its current membership of 26. The initial concentration on daycare grew to address a host of other needs: emergency food, delivery of basic furniture, emergency financial assistance, transportation to medical appointments, Meals on Wheels, and housing rehabilitation.
The daycare center is now the ACCA Child Development Center, which provides developmental childcare and early education for almost 200 infants, toddlers, and preschoolers. For about 10 years, the CDC was housed in the facilities of ACCA churches. In 1977, after the closing Annandale Elementary School, the County leased part of the building to ACCA, and built an Infant/Toddler Center and a Pantry on the site.
The ACCA Pantry collects from churches, schools, community groups and local businesses and delivers food and other necessities on an emergency basis to area households. ACCA’s Emergency Assistance program handles financial emergencies such as payment for rent, utilities, prescription drugs, and minor car repairs for low-income families who have few resources to fall back on in a crisis. These ministries provide a safety net while the families recover stability. Furniture ministry volunteers collect and distribute gently used furniture to needy recipients, while volunteers from the Transportation ministry provide rides to medical appointments.
The Meals on Wheels volunteers deliver meals every weekday to elderly residents who cannot fend for themselves. As partners with Rebuilding Together, ACCA volunteers spend a Saturday in April repairing houses – more than 110 homes have been repaired or rehabilitated since 1990. The annual CROP Walk raises funds for Church World Service, a portion of which is returned to ACCA.
Except for the staff of CDC, all services are provided by volunteers.
ACCA works closely with the Fairfax County Department of Neighborhood and Community Services and local churches to ensure that those receiving help are truly needy. ACCA’s ability to respond quickly to food and financial needs makes it more flexible than government assistance and able to prevent small emergencies from escalating. Assistance is provided regardless of ethnicity or religion. According to Deputy County Executive for Neighborhood and Community Services Patricia Harrison, “ACCA has long been an important partner in our efforts to ensure healthy child and youth development, prevent homelessness, build families, and mitigate the impacts of poverty. ACCA exemplifies the role of community and faith-based organizations.”
Few of the founding members are left to guide the organization but new volunteers have stepped forward and the organization continues on. In 1976, founder Fred Ruffing was tragically killed in an accident; Emily worked in the Child Development Center until 2010. In tribute to the Ruffings, ACCA provides several four-year scholarships for college students with disabilities.
The ACCA model of a faith-based organization collaborating with County government has been duplicated in other areas of Fairfax County. It is a sterling example of the power of volunteers from various Christian churches working together to put Christ’s words into action. As Emily Ruffing has said, ” the most beautiful thing about ACCA is seeing people of various faith working together in harmony for a common objective”.