Fran Ricketts believes that if people knew how difficult
it can be to recover after a major life setback, most anyone would want to
help out in any way possible.
She speaks from personal experience: she was hospitalized
for months after a freak accident in 1978 and was left disabled as a result.
While she was recovering and without income, Fran, a single mother of two at
the time, asked for assistance from social services to pay a utility bill,
but she didn’t qualify because she owned a house and car.
The memory of those dark and difficult days in her
family’s life, and the way that friends and neighbors rallied to help, is
why Fran Ricketts is president of Congregational Community Action Project
(CCAP) of Winchester and Frederick County, and has been for close to three
“I raised two kids alone a long time ago, and I know how
hard it was back then. But it’s even harder today. If the public just knew
how much people suffer to get back on their feet after a major setback, they
would reach out to help,” she says.
CCAP, as it’s known in the
community, is a cooperative ministry of faith communities, founded in 1975,
to provide financial, material, and supportive assistance to people in need.
The organization operates a complete food pantry and clothing room for
adults and children, and it offers assistance in other areas, including
rent, utilities, prescription drugs, GED testing fees, heating and cooling
assistance, personal and household products, baby food, diapers, and many
other items. CCAP doesn’t give money directly to its clients; instead, the
organization uses vouchers to pay agencies or businesses for services or
In addition to the day-to-day
assistance it provides, CCAP also sponsors special projects during the year,
including distributing school supplies for needy students in August,
assembling food baskets with items needed for complete Thanksgiving dinners
with all the fixings, and preparing Christmas and Easter “goodie” baskets
“We do this out of love for God
and community, and because we respect those people who are struggling to
maintain a decent life for their family and themselves, despite difficult
circumstances. CCAP has a strong faith background, but we help people from
all denominations,” says Fran.
There are numerous public and private agencies that
assist people in need, but “there isn’t enough money in all the agencies and
not-for-profits that exist today to pull a family out of the hole,” she
says. There is no “typical” client at CCAP, as they comprise all ages,
ethnicities, and backgrounds; many have high school diplomas or the
equivalent, some are military veterans, some are single mothers, some are
seasonal laborers, some have substance-abuse problems, and many are
currently working or have worked professionally but have hit a major
roadblock in their lives.
The global economy has changed,
and today more workers have temporary or part-time jobs that require 20 to
30 weekly hours but offer no benefits, explains Fran. Many workers who come
to CCAP are earning minimum wage, but that doesn’t necessarily provide a
living wage for a family.
Consequently, the need is great,
based on the number of people that come to CCAP for help each year. In 2011,
for example, more than 34,000 families had an occasion to use CCAP, says
Fran, and of that number, more than 18,000 required food assistance. “We
help more than 100 families each day for food alone,” she says.
All this work is done with 85
volunteers and absolutely no paid staff, not even its president, Fran.
“Never once in 37 years has CCAP had even $1 go toward payroll,” says Louis
H. “Lou” Milotte, Jr., who was the organization’s chief financial officer
for many years and now serves as its accountant and bookkeeper. “It’s just
amazing to find so many people who are so supportive of the organization and
are so willing to pitch in and help,” he says.
CCAP was established to be
volunteer driven, because paying staff would take funds from those in need,
says Fran. “That’s why the community supports us and believes in us. We use
95 cents of every dollar donated for our mission, with the rest going to
building maintenance and utilities, insurance, and postage. The work here is
done for free and the money donated goes right back to the community,” she
When it first began, the faith
community was the only means of support for CCAP. Now, about a third of its
income is generated from congregations, a third comes from local businesses,
and a third comes from individuals, says Lou. Today, about 200 churches and
synagogues in the area are involved, to varying degrees. CCAP doesn’t accept
local, state or federal government funds to perform its mission, nor does it
receive funding from United Way.
“I’ve never seen a community this
generous,” says Lou. With a little more than 100,000 residents, Winchester
and Frederick County is still considered a fairly small community, he says.
Yet in the first eight months of 2012, CCAP raised $240,000, and it’s on
target to raise a total of $500,000, the same as last year.
“Congregations, businesses and individuals have all
stepped up and pitched in, but there is no way to explain how this happens
every year with such a small population. It’s amazing, just amazing,” says
The hardest part of the job is
seeing the growing homeless population in Winchester and surrounding area,
especially families with children, says Fran. There are 146 homeless
families with school-age children in Winchester, and 141 in Frederick
County. CCAP tries to prevent individuals and families from becoming
homeless, but it can’t stop every eviction, says Fran.
When people are evicted, CCAP
will store their personal items until they get back on their feet and try to
arrange shelter for them. If that isn’t possible, CCAP provides tarps,
tents, sleeping bags and cooking supplies. “Even if they are homeless, we
want them to have something that feels like home. The hardest thing is to
hand them a tent if they have nowhere else to go. It feels like failure,”
This past summer, CCAP helped a
single mother and her son who had been evicted from their apartment. The
mother had a truck to get back and forth to work, so CCAP paid the monthly
fees for a local campsite and provided the family with camping equipment and
“Her son thought they were camping all summer long — he
never knew they were homeless,” says Fran. Thankfully, the boy’s mother was
able to save money over the summer and is slowly getting back on her feet.
For Fran, that small, struggling family —- and thousands
of others like it — is the reason she works so tirelessly every day at CCAP.
For more info:
Action Program (CCAP)
112 S. Kent Street
Winchester, VA 22601
What’s needed for the holidays?
The holidays are especially busy at CCAP, as it works to
provide almost 700 needy families with all the fixings for a Thanksgiving
dinner. CCAP also sponsors a two-day holiday giveaway in mid-December for
about 500 needy families, who receive pop-up laundry bags filled with
cleaning and household items, and personal care items and gifts.
Here’s a list of items you can donate:
Turkey or ham; instant potatoes; throw-away cooking pans;
sweet potatoes; stove-top or regular stuffing; gravy; canned vegetables;
cranberry sauce; rolls, buns, bread; pies, cakes, cookies; pumpkin pie mix.
Holiday Goodie-Bag Items
Detergent softener or dryer sheets; dishwashing liquid;
paper towels; toilet paper; bathroom cleaner; aluminum foil; garbage bags;
glass cleaner; plastic wrap; small plastic bags; bar hand soap; shampoo;
CCAP especially needs gifts for children ages 12-18 years
old, because this age group is often overlooked at the holidays. Items for
this group include: soccer balls, basketballs, baseballs and gloves;
skateboards or long boards; gift cards for food, music and entertainment;
fishing poles; scarves; pocketbooks; craft kits; appointments for hair cuts
and styling; socks, gloves and hats.
Year-Round CCAP Wish List
• Food: fresh, frozen, seasonal, canned, boxed or bagged
• Grocery certificates
• All good, clean clothing, all genders, all sizes
• Jeans and socks for both genders and sizes
• Toiletries: shampoo, deodorant, soaps, toothbrush,
• Household cleaning supplies
• Paper towels, toilet paper, tissues
• Sheets, flat and fitted, all sizes
• Bicycles in great working condition
• Laundry detergent
• Diapers, large sizes 3-6, pull-ups
• Blankets and quilts
• Curtains, pillows, bedspreads
• Tarps, tents, sleeping bags for homeless
• Heavy-duty coat hangers, not wire
Monetary gifts and volunteer time are also appreciated.
CCAP asks that no soiled or stained gifts of any kind be donated. It cannot
accept used stuffed animals or toys due to health codes.