Cover Story

Like a Bridge Over Troubled Water ...

CCAP of Winchester and Frederick County is a cooperative ministry of faith communities that provides assistance in a loving way to individuals and families who have difficulty meeting basic needs on their own.


by Teri Merrill, Contributing Writer


Fran Ricketts helps a little buddy get a drink of water at the Congregational Community Action Project (CCAP) headquarters in Winchester.

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 decades.

“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 goods rendered.

Volunteer Cookie Riggleman (foreground) believes the Lord led her to Fran Ricketts and CCAP at a time she was in need. Cookie now pays it forward generously by working at CCAP daily, as well as volunteering at another local charity and working as a waitress. Gregory Hawriluk, a Shenandoah University student, began volunteering at CCAP as part of a school project.

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 for distribution.

“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.

 No ‘typical’ client

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.

Fran Ricketts (standing) takes a call while volunteer Mary Thweatt works the computer at CCAP’s office, a beehive of activity during the week.

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 says.

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 Lou.

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,” she says.

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 food.

“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:

Congregational Community

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:

Holiday Food

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; toothpaste; toiletries.

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, toothpaste

• 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.


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