Fauquier F.I.S.H. [Fauquier for Immediate Sympathetic Help] has taken the food drive to a whole new level. On Jan. 28, a coupon challenge began. Six women were given $50 gift cards to be used in conjunction with coupons and sales to see who was the most extreme couponer in Fauquier County.
"The essence of any competition is to raise the bar, and these ladies are bringing a personal pastime or hobby in to benefit the community. Here we have an amazing group of women turning their talents into goods for Fauquier FISH Food Bank," said Margaret McCann. The tally came in on Tuesday, revealing that as a group, contestants spent $292, and saved $1,739.
"It helped fill the shelves in a time when we really needed it," said McCann.
McCann has had some involvement with food bank over the years, but said one night the idea to do a coupon challenge struck her. She pitched the idea, and a challenge was born. During the course of the week, competition was friendly.
"Throughout the competition they helped each other," said McCann. "There was teamwork involved, which I thought was very cool. They would say to each other, 'If you need any tips let me know.'"
Everyone was invited to post their great finds on the Fauquier FISH Facebook page.
Lisa Testa reported that she had purchased 32 items for less than $4.
Maggie Massie wrote, "Ok. First coupon trip for $50 challenge: Four transactions at Wegman's included 32 deodorant, 16 shampoo, 16 cans chili, 16 cans veggies. Total [is] $3.70 during my lunch hour."
Jennifer Timberlake posted, "First haul of my Couponing for a Cause. Eight cans of beans, four cans of chili, six cans tomatoes, three packs of pudding, five hair products & 10 shampoo/ conditioners for less than $8!
The winner of the challenge was unknown until the last day. Everyone gathered at Fauquier F.I.S.H., which is located near the Fauquier County Sheriff's Office. Bags upon bags were removed from minivans, and SUV's, and hauled into the food pantry.
The totaling was confusing, as Elaine Harris had to figure out where to add and subtract numbers pertaining to sales, clearance, extra care bucks, E-vic coupons, and of course the manufacturer's coupons. Each contestant had not one, but a whole stack of receipts.
"It's like a part time job," said Massie.
As receipts were entered into the system, contestants and volunteers began stocking shelves. Initially, the personal care shelf was almost bare. Though they had plenty of toothbrushes, FISH was in need of toothpaste, and hair care items.
"When you think of the food bank you think food. You can't buy personal care items with food stamps," McCann said.
Contestants wore broad smiles, proving that giving to others selflessly really is one life's greatest joys. All of the numbers had been added in, but a re-count was needed because two contestants had only a .13 difference in savings. While Harris checked and double-checked, the last contestant arrived. Maybe she needed to make one last stop, but Chauny McCray was there nonetheless. She easily took the lead, spending $38 and saving $615.
McCray has first-hand experience in couponing out of necessity.
"I was homeless for three years and lived in 12 different shelters over a three year period," said McCray. "There was a time when I had $65 to spend in a week and make it feed our family. I used to get food from food banks for my family. and sometime people weren't there to help us, so I am happy to do this to help other people. I love helping people."
"The prize for this competition is not just about helping to fill the food bank shelves but also for awareness of what Fauquier FISH does for the community," McCann said.
McCann said she expects to see all the shoppers again, whether for the next challenge, or simple drop offs.
"They all offered to help anytime we need it. They want to do the competition again," said McCann. "It opened up a lot of people's eyes to F.I.S.H. It's one of those organizations that does a lot, but people don't know about it."
Elaine Harris hopes to shine a light on what goes on at FISH.
"Many food banks distribute whatever is donated. Because Fauquier FISH provides a menu of foods that supplies groceries to prepare complete balanced meals at home for breakfast, lunch and dinner for three to six days, we are always shopping," Harris said. "Shopper volunteers take a two week shift and are responsible for buying all fresh items and filling the shelves with whatever we are low on. In addition to the main shopper we have a bread shopper – currently the best prices for bread are at Safeway; and a milk shopper – best milk prices are at Wegman’s just now. FISH is very fortunate to have an extreme couponer on staff, she finds amazing deals and squeezes every last cent out of donated dollars. Cereal, peanut butter, jelly and Helper meals with prices of $2, $3 and $4 are purchased for less that $1 and we never run short of these staple items. Fall food drives are a tremendous help in keeping the shelves stocked with canned foods. Next week two area churches, Warrenton Presbyterian and Greenwich Presbyterian will hold their annual “Souper Bowl” food drives to collect soup, stew and chili."
Fauquier FISH began its community service work in Fauquier County in 1983 with the distribution of donated food from several food pantries around the county. Families in need contacted local churches and volunteers delivered the food to their homes. The operation has grown over the years and has many more programs that include providing book bags & school supplies every summer and paying utility bills for county residents facing a power or water cutoff.
In 2000 Fauquier FISH became a 501(c)(3) non-profit, established a permanent food bank in Old Town and moved to its current location at 24 Pelham Street.
Information about volunteering can be found at