Whether it be free meals for children, health care workers or families, the restaurant industry’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic has showcased the importance of helping one’s community during times of tremendous need. Amid a national crisis, many restaurants and food service businesses have taken it upon themselves to support such groups, and here are a few highlights of those who are giving back to their communities across the state of Virginia.
Fredericksburg: Juan More Tacos
Maria Martin (left), owner of Juan More Tacos, has used her business and network of customers in Central Virginia to provide free meals to seniors who are social distancing at home. In addition to feeding dozens of elderly members of her community and neighboring counties daily, Martin has delivered meals to front line health workers fighting COVID-19 in area hospitals and emergency rooms. She has ensured that many vulnerable people do not go hungry.
Martin’s unwavering commitment and her rapid organization of volunteers and donations shines bright as some customers have donated as much as $1,000, while others have offered to help safely deliver meals. Several local Girl Scout troops have provided cookies to send with the deliveries, and a local bookstore even sent books.
“I grew up in Honduras, and I know what it is to need something and not be able to have it. I know what it is to go to bed and be hungry, and I don’t want anybody to go through that.” – Maria Martin, Owner, Juan More Taco
When COVID-19 caused restaurants to change their hours and close their dining rooms, Mikey Reisenberg, owner of Mashita, turned the restaurant’s focus to front line health workers, launching its #GiveSsam initiative to keep cash flowing into the business while the community supports local health care workers. The project gives people an opportunity to make donations on Mashita’s website by purchasing and then donating a gift card back to the restaurant. The money goes into a fund and each time it reaches $150, Mashita will deliver meals to workers.
Mashita’s initiative was greatly supported by the community, and donations started to be made more frequently, allowing the #GiveSsam project to expand to include all kinds of essential workers, including grocery, postal, and pharmacy workers. When making a donation, people have the unique opportunity to specify which type of essential worker they want to support, as well as write a brief message to be featured on the “thank you” card that will accompany the Korean-inspired and freshly prepared food delivery. Mashita hand writes all messages submitted on a greeting card!
South Boston: Southern Plenty
Due to the pandemic, Mary Bagwell, owner of Southern Plenty, was forced to temporarily close her cafe. While the restaurant remains closed, Bagwell has been supporting a worthy initiative. South Boston’s YMCA partnered alongside the local school district to provide groceries to the families of school children. Rather than continue making small monetary donations, Bagwell realized that she could buy relatively inexpensive supplies to create delicious food that her customers would buy, taking those sales and donating the proceeds to help buy more food for children. She found a way to connect with customers and support a local charitable cause.
Bagwell prepared and sold fresh, homemade baked goods through a pre-order process at the drive-thru farmers market. By doing so, she brought new and existing customers to the downtown market, helping other vendors increase their overall sales. Bagwell emphasized, “It was a win-win all around!” She has raised over $3,000 for the YMCA food bank.
Warrenton: Community Cooks Project
The Warrenton-based PATH Foundation announced $206,500 in new, immediate COVID-19 response funding to local organizations. The Community Cooks project received $23,000 to prepare and distribute packaged ready-meals for children, the elderly, those experiencing homelessness and others who rely on free and reduced-price food. Experience Old Town Warrenton played an instrumental role in helping develop the program and securing the grant from the community’s local foundation to ensure that restaurants could participate in the preparation of meals to be given out at free food events.
The fresh and frozen meals with ingredients procured from local growers would not be made possible without multiple partners and community volunteers, including Great Harvest Bread Company, Gateau Bakery Cafe & Tea Room, Warrenton Wellness Kitchen, Fauquier County 4-H, World Central Kitchen, and other local food service establishments! To date, between 300-800 meals are prepared each week and distributed through one of Warrenton’s regional food coalitions. The Community Cooks project has greatly helped to provide access to locally produced food, create a marketplace where farmers can thrive and improve food equity.