If you pass through Vienna, you’ll likely notice brightly colored wooden signs with open-heart emblems scattered about town. What you might not know is that these are not merely decorations. They signify a good-willed movement that has taken root.
Those signs come from Rustic Love, a nonprofit founded by Michelle Connors, a Vienna woman with a mission to combat food insecurity.
Connors rallies volunteers, including many local teens, to build these colorful signs, which are sold to residents and businesses through pop-ups and online orders. The profits are donated to local food pantries and food assistance programs. According to Rustic Love’s website, it has sold more than 5,000 heart signs and raised more than $380,000.
Annabelle Hallworth, 15, is one of the group’s volunteers. She says she loves seeing the signs around town because it shows how her community is helping others.
“If you see the sign in somebody’s yard, you just kind of feel connected to them because they’re doing the same thing that you are,” she says. “It’s just a really good sense of unity.”
These vibrant signs are a connecting thread between volunteers and supporters, but there’s another side to this work.
Hallworth says that prior to volunteering with Rustic Love, she didn’t know how many people locally struggled with food insecurity. Rustic Love raises awareness for an issue that people might not otherwise recognize.
“It allows me to be able to see not just the world that I’m in, not just my friends, but to really see the highs and lows of the world,” Hallworth says. “It also allows me to feel like I’m contributing to help. Even though it’s such a small act, if you’re volunteering for two hours or something, you feel like you’re making a difference, and that’s everything that I could ask for.”
While Connors says she never imagined the organization would grow so much, the consensus is clear: There’s something special about Rustic Love. It brings out volunteers in droves. It makes people want to support the cause by displaying the heart signs in their yards and wearing T-shirts that sport its logo. The symbol is woven into the fabric of Vienna’s community, representing the abundance of hearts and minds it has opened.
“It just reaffirms your hope in mankind,” Connors says, “about how we really are good people and want to do good things.”
Feature photo courtesy Rustic Love
This story originally ran in our May issue. For more stories like this, subscribe to Northern Virginia Magazine.