Local Businesses, Residents Providing Food Assistance
Area businesses and community members are mobilizing to feed families in need during the COVID-19 crisis.
This story has been updated.
If you’re in need of a pick-me-up, stop looking at your sinking stock portfolio and start monitoring the GoFundMe page set up by four Yorktown High School teachers who wanted to make sure Arlington’s most vulnerable students would be able to eat during the COVID-19 school shut-down. Unlike the NASDAQ, the donations to OptIn – One Pantry at a Time are climbing rapidly—a welcome reminder that we are connected and neighborly even as we practice social distancing.
As of Monday morning, the page had raised more than $220,000, and the teachers had already delivered the first 1,000 grocery store gift cards ($100 each) to families whose children receive free or reduced meals at school.
“We didn’t really expect to raise that much money,” says Yorktown physics teacher Deborah Waldron, who helped organize the effort. “The sheer kindness of the people in the community is the best part of all.”
She stresses that this is not an official Arlington Public Schools fundraiser, but that she and fellow organizers were worried about students and tried to figure out the best way to help—fast.
“Our district has about 25 percent of kids who get free and reduced lunches,” she says. “We are working with schools, social workers and principals to distribute them to families in need.”
Waldron adds that it’s getting tougher to find families who need the gift cards as the unexpected break lengthens. “There are some principals reaching out to us, but others can’t get to their people anymore.”
Because of this challenge to distribute the cards, the GoFundMe page also urges Arlington-based donors to consider giving to AFAC, Arlington Thrive or AHC, and for nonresidents to consider donating to their own local food banks.
“It just happened so darn fast,” Waldron says.
David Guas, chef-owner of Bayou Bakery in Courthouse, also felt keenly that he had to act quickly to aid Arlington families who rely on free and reduced-price meals at school.
“When schools announced on Friday that they were going to close on Monday, it was just a panic,” he says.
A partnership was forged with Real Food for Kids and Fruitful Planet to provide free meals each weekday until schools reopen. Guas was especially concerned that for the 8,300 or so children who rely on school meals, the school system’s free grab-and-go school meals are currently only offered at two pick-up spots—both located in South Arlington.
“So we figured in Courthouse, there’s already a central business district of the county. Our location would be ideal,” he says. “We set up a pickup system in front of the restaurant so people don’t have to come in and threw together a template of how to do this.”
Currently, the team is serving vegan beans and rice between 11 a.m. and 1 p.m., Monday through Friday, in front of Bayou Bakery to underserved students and their families, as well as military families, no questions asked. Guas says beans and rice is considered comfort food in many cultures, plus it’s nutritious and adheres to almost every dietary restriction. As of April 1, the team was serving roughly 400 free meals per day.
“We’re seeing a lot of repeats, so we know that people are relying on us, and it’s just a tremendous amount of responsibility for us to continue this initiative,” he says. “Until somebody says we can’t even be out of our house, I’m going to show up every day.”
Other local businesses and community groups that are stepping up:
Astro Doughnuts & Fried Chicken launches Comfort for the Crisis starting Monday, March 23, employing its food truck to make daily deliveries to area hospitals and Hook Hall Helps. In addition, Astro will donate $100 of food for every $500 raised. Visit the order online page, choose the Washington, D.C. store, select Order & Delivery, select “pickup” and there will be an option to donate.
Falls Church Area Covid-19 Aid, a grassroots effort organized by Falls Church resident Mike Michener, is providing assistance to vulnerable community members, including shopping for and delivering groceries and medications, along with other forms of no-contact assistance. Individuals in need can call 703-982-0736. Those interested in volunteering should visit the group’s Facebook page for more info.
Fresh Crunch Food, which previously earned its bread and butter by selling boxed lunches to school and tour groups visiting the area, has pivoted to become Community Crunch. The new business model allows folks to order three family meals for themselves and donate one family meal to anyone in Arlington and Fairfax County. “We came up with the idea to provide meal kits for families, but it was very important to us that there was an element of give back,” says co-owner Jenn Mapp Bressan. The package of four family meals, which feed four to six people each, costs $125. That breaks down to about $7 per person. She and her chef-owner husband, Matt Bressan, have so many donated meals that they’re actually looking for people who need food. Those who need food can email through the website, DM them through their Facebook page or call 703-459-0878.
Good Company Doughnuts & Cafe will provide a free kid’s meal and doughnut to all school-age children in need each weekday until schools reopen. Elderly residents can also get free delivery for orders of more than $20.
Jaleo Crystal City is temporarily offering limited takeout options at reduced prices, and intends to accommodate those who can’t pay, including displaced restaurant workers. The menu changes daily and is available from noon-5 p.m.
Joe’s Place Pizza & Pasta is offering free pizza and salads to struggling Arlington families weekdays from 5–7 p.m. Deliveries can be placed on the hood of the recipient’s car to honor social distancing. Call 703-532-0990 to order.
Radius Networks, founded by District Taco co-owner Marc Wallace, is offering free technology for 90 days (or longer) to provide real-time customer tracking to facilitate curbside/doorside pick up orders for restaurants. For more information about its FlyBuy Lite software, click here.