Arlington’s top chefs beat out the county’s best firehouse cooks at a reality TV-style charity competition fought in Clarendon Wednesday night.
Professional cooks won two out of three “Golden Eggplants” awarded at the Arlington Food Assistance Center‘s third annual Chiefs vs. Chefs benefit.
Given ingredients found in AFAC pantries that serve a growing number of hungry Arlington residents, Arlington County Fire Department Lt. Richard Slusher and Firefighter Anthony Westfall of Station 4 in Clarendon took the first award of the night. They whipped up potato and zucchini latkes with a Mediterranean salsa and lemon-basil sour cream. The firehouse cooks bested chef Tim Ma of the Virginia Square eatery Water & Wall. Ma made a hot dog salad with avocado, corn, fish sauce and palm sugar.
“[The latkes] were elegant, well-seasoned and artful,” judge David Guas of Bayou Bakery said after he announced his vote by hoisting a red sign with a fire hat. “Do you have any more?”
Making a vegetarian chili with crispy chicken confit, chefs Kate Jansen and Tracy O’Grady of the Ballston restaurant Willow won the soup round of the food fight. They beat out Capt. Bosephus “Bo” Bennett of ACFD headquarters and Firefighter David Harrison of Station 5, who made a fall harvest root vegetable soup topped with curry whipped cream.
“It’s creamy and delicious, and the texture is lovely,” ruled judge Shannon Overmiller of Alexandria’s Majestic Cafe.
Bennett, a 14-year veteran of the department, said county firefighters were honored to help AFAC fundraise for needy people.
“It’s for the cause. That’s what we’re here for,” he said, noting that firefighters on calls regularly refer people with empty refrigerators to AFAC’s 18 food distribution sites across the county.
The nonprofit has seen a 40 percent uptick in the number of families it serves, executive director Charles Meng said. AFAC gave food to 1,452 families on average every week from Sept. 2012 to Sept. 2013. At the end of last month, that average had risen to 2,036 families every week.
“The number of families we’re seeing is just going up,” Meng said, explaining that Arlington residents say they’re struggling after sequestration cuts and reductions to Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program benefits.
The competition showed that simple foods can be turned into delicious dishes, Capt. Claude Conde of Station 9 said.
“If you use some imagination, you can get some good, healthy meals out of basic ingredients.”
Conde and Firefighter Joaquin Ibarra of Station 1 competed in the competition’s last round, making an entree of creamy risotto with chicken thighs and eggplant. They faced off against chefs William Morris and Peter Smith of Vermilion in Alexandria, who made a rolled chicken ballotine with chicken mousse, tomato ragu with corn and sweet potato, and charred onion.
The Vermilion chefs won the final Golden Eggplant of the night, after the judges ruled the ACFD dish to be under-seasoned.
AFAC, which is primarily run through donations, raised more than $45,00 from the event, Meng said. He said he was happy to highlight the firehouse-cooking tradition.
ACFD Chief James Schwartz explained why firefighters are such good cooks.
“The secret of firehouse cooking is you either cook or clean up. Either you’re a cook when you get here, or you learn fast,” he said.
Last week, Fair Share Education Fund released a report showing eligibility for free or reduced price school lunches is growing faster in suburbs like Arlington than in cities. Although the report focused on 2010-2011, an Arlington Food Assistance Center spokeswoman confirmed the organization still saw a huge increase in Arlington families using its services for the 2014 fiscal year, which ended on June 30.
AFAC served 1,400 families each week as of July 2013, and that bumped up to 2,000 families each week by this summer, which is a 40 percent increase. That equals about 5,000 individuals every week, of which 36 percent are children.
AFAC staff believes two factors contributing to the increase were last year’s government shutdown and the reduction in Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) benefits.
“Last year in November, the SNAP cuts went into effect and we immediately saw an increase in the number of families coming to us,” said AFAC Director of Development Joy Myers. “The average reduction per family was $36 per month. That may not seem like a lot, but when you’re scraping to get by and every penny counts and you’re $36 short, you’re going to try to find all your resources. When they get food from us, they can take that money and pay rent or gas and electric bills, or buy medicine.”
One way AFAC is trying to combat the growing food insecurity for Arlington’s children is by expanding its Backpack Buddies program, which began serving homeless children a few years ago. This year, the pilot program will open up to children in need at four elementary schools — Barcroft, Barrett, Randolph and Carlin Springs.
Kids enrolled in the program receive food on Fridays, to take home and eat on Saturday and Sunday when they’re away from school. The kids can choose to take the pre-packaged goods home in their own backpack, or borrow one and return it on Monday. The program is anonymous to prevent embarrassing children who are signed up. AFAC volunteers drop off the food and backpacks to school cafeteria workers and that’s where kids registered with the program can pick up their weekend supplies.
“We’re trying to de-stigmatize it as much as possible for kids to get the food that they need,” said Myers. “We’re also hoping because there are so many people struggling with food insecurity who aren’t speaking out, we hope this is a way for families to hear about our other services. We don’t want anybody in Arlington going hungry.”
Children at the four schools will take home an information packet when school starts and their parents have to register through the Arlington Public Schools Office of Food and Nutrition Services.
Although AFAC always can use monetary and food donations, it especially could use help with Backpack Buddies because the pre-packaged, microwaveable kids’ meals are more expensive than other donated items. To donate, volunteer or set up a food drive, log on to the AFAC website for more information.
The Arlington Food Assistance Center, which provides meals to families in need, is experiencing a boom in demand that it doesn’t expect to go away anytime soon.
AFAC currently serves 2,007 families and 8,028 individuals, a 40 percent jump since July 2013 and a 37 percent increase in the last calendar year, according to Executive Director Charles Meng. Meng projects the nonprofit will exceed its $700,000 food purchase budget this year by $150,000.
Meng claims the increase is a direct result of two policy changes in Congress — the passage of the farm bill, which will cut more than $8 billion from the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (commonly known as food stamps) over the next decade, and the end of long-term unemployment benefits. Both resulted in cuts that have affected millions of low-income and unemployed Americans, and both have come within the last eight months, he said.
“It’s a very clear cause and effect in my mind,” Meng told ARLnow.com this morning. “The reductions in the SNAP program took effect Nov. 1, and it was November that our numbers started going up. It was a reduction of about $36 per family of four. You and I don’t think much of $36, but when you have very little funds, that’s a significant reduction in your income. That’s what caused people to come here.”
Meng said AFAC is transferring funds from other parts of its budget to cover the food expenses until the fiscal year ends, and its board of directors has approved a budget with an additional $150,000. However, Meng said AFAC must increase its fundraising goals and efforts or it must begin tapping into its reserves.
“This is unlike a recession situation when we see people coming to us, and when the recession eases, they’d be leaving us,” he said. “We’re not seeing that, these are basically going to be our clients on a long-term basis because this is a structural change to the funding available from the feds.”
In a letter to the editor to The New York Times, the president and chief executive of the Food Bank for New York City, Margarette Purvis, pilloried Congress and President Barack Obama for allowing the cuts to pass along with the farm bill.
“Charities will not be able to step up and save the day,” Purvis wrote. “We expect — and should expect — more from our leaders in Washington when it comes to keeping Americans from going hungry.”
Meng said “food donations are always a great help,” but AFAC is more actively seeking financial assistance to stem the tide of demand outpacing funding.
“At this point, financial donations are much more important,” he said. “The bottom line is, we can basically purchase three times as much food with one dollar as a family could in a grocery store. If we get the right funding, then we can purchase a lot more food.”
The Shirlala Music Festival begins June 12 with urban folk rock artist Justin Trawick, performing in the plaza in front of Signature Theatre (4200 Campbell Avenue) from 6:30 to 8:30 p.m. The concerts will take place every Thursday through August 21.
The festival will also include a weekly $5 wine tasting, with the proceeds going to benefit the Arlington Food Assistance Center. The concerts themselves are free for the public.
Here is the schedule of performers:
- June 12 — Justin Trawick (urban folk rock)
- June 19 — The Morrison Brothers (Southern rock)
- June 26 — King Teddy (swing)
- July 3 — Taylor Carson (acoustic rock)
- July 10 — Down Wilson (pop rock cover band)
- July 17 — Scott Paddock (jazz)
- July 24 — Ewabo (tropical steel drums)
- July 31 — The Shack Band (Southern funk)
- Aug. 7 — Paul Pfau (pop, rock & blues)
- Aug. 14 — Lloyd Dobler Effect (80s & 90s cover band)
- Aug. 21 — Dan Haas Trio (pop rock)
Opower Sets IPO Price — Courthouse-based Opower is expected to start selling shares on the New York Stock Exchange today. The company set the price for its initial public offering at $19 per share. [Washington Business Journal]
A Brief History of Fairlington — Arlington’s Fairlington neighborhood was built by the U.S. government in the 1940s in response to a housing shortage caused by World War II. It’s listed in the National Register of Historic Places. [Washington Post]
AFAC Fundraiser Tonight — The Arlington Food Assistance Center’s Young Professionals group will hold its annual Hunger Is No Joke fundraiser tonight at Cafe Asia in Rosslyn. The 90s cover band White Ford Bronco will perform. [Clarendon Nights]
Cuban Band to Perform at Artisphere Tonight — Also tonight, at Artisphere in Rosslyn, the Grammy-nominated Cuban music group Tiempo Libre will perform. Tickets to the 8:00 p.m. performance are $25 at the door. [Ode Street Tribune]
Temporary Bus Stop Relocations — A number of bus stops on N. Moore Street in front of the Rosslyn Metro station will be relocated from 8:00 p.m. to 6:00 a.m. tonight, tomorrow and Sunday. The relocations are necessary to allow the demolition of the Moore Street skybridge. Also, starting today, the ART 53 bus stop at Old Glebe and N. Stafford Street is closed for construction for about a week. [Arlington Transit]
Tech Hub Coming to Crystal City — Crystal City office building owner Vornado is investing $10 million in a venture capital fund called the Crystal Tech Fund. Venture capitalist Paul Singh is hoping to raise a total of $50 million for the fund, and is moving his company, Disruption Corp., to Crystal City. Vornado is also bringing a WeWork co-working space to Crystal City by 2016, and converting an existing building into a 300 unit apartment building for “today’s mobile and collaborative workers.” [InTheCapital, Washington Business Journal]
AFAC Sees Record Food Need – The Arlington Food Assistance Center continues to see record need for food in the community. The food bank served just over 1,800 families per week in February, a 30 percent increase compared to last year. [Sun Gazette]
Sony Store to Close — The Sony store in Pentagon City Mall is set to close, according to the company. The Sony store in Tysons Corner is also on the chopping block. [Sony]
Remembrance for Jean Crawford — Jean Crawford, a local Arlington County official and activist, died earlier this month after experiencing complications from gastric bypass surgery. A remembrance ceremony for Crawford will be held Saturday from 11:00 a.m. to 1:30 p.m. at the Unitarian Universalist Church of Arlington (4444 Arlington Blvd). [Washington Post, Sun Gazette]
Video: Joan Mulholland — Joan Mulholland, a civil rights activist and former Freedom Rider who lives in Arlington, recently donated documents from her private collection to the Center for Local History at Arlington Public Library. The county’s Arlington TV channel created a video about Mulholland and the donation. [YouTube]
Flickr pool photo by ksrjghkegkdhgkk
About 50 members of the Army’s 3rd U.S. Infantry Regiment delivered nearly 700 pounds of donated food to the Arlington Food Assistance Center this morning.
In case the donation wasn’t impressive enough, the soldiers delivered the food on foot, marching 4 miles from Joint Base Myer-Henderson Hall to AFAC’s building in Shirlington with rucksacks on their backs.
The 3rd Infantry Regiment is also known as the Old Guard. The donation was made by the Old Guard’s 4th Battalion, which consists of ceremonial companies, a military police company, and the guards of the Tomb of the Unknowns, among others.
The food will be distributed ” to the 1,800 families that seek food from us each week,” according to AFAC communications manager Clare McIntyre.
Photos courtesy Clare McIntyre/AFAC
County Board Approves Glencarlyn Park Playground — The Arlington County Board on Tuesday approved a $485,000 construction contract for a new playground at Glencarlyn Park. The playground is intended for 5-12 year olds and includes a swing set and a “treehouse” log play structure. [Arlington County]
Demand Rises at AFAC – The Arlington Food Assistance Center “has seen a 20 percent surge in families visiting the food pantry in need of groceries over the past six months.” The director of AFAC says cuts in food stamp (SNAP) benefits has increased need in the community. Those cuts are expected to deepen if Congress passes a new compromise farm bill that includes $800 million in annual food stamp reductions. [Patch]
Grant Accepted for Innovation Initiative — Arlington County has accepted a $350,000 from the state to help fund “an innovative public-private initiative that will connect fast growth technology product companies with national security agencies headquartered in Arlington and the Commonwealth of Virginia.” Arlington will contribute a $175,000 matching grant to the project. [Arlington County]
Dem Caucus Is ‘Basically About the Streetcar’ — On its Twitter account, the blog Greater Greater Washington opines that this week’s Democratic Arlington County Board caucus is “basically about the streetcar.” Alan Howze and Peter Fallon, who GGW recommends voting for, generally support the Columbia Pike streetcar project while Cord Thomas has spoken out against it. [Twitter, Greater Greater Washington]
New African American Book Club — Arlington Public Library has launched a new African American Book Club. The club will “discuss the novels of both new and well-known authors, thought provoking non-fiction about the African American experience.” [Arlington Public Library]
Pageview Problem on ARLnow.com — We are currently trying to resolve a problem that is causing the pageview counter on each article to significantly undercount the actual number of views. The problem is impacting articles published within the past 24-48 hours.
Flickr pool photo by Mrs. Gemstone
Next week, from Nov. 2 to Nov. 9, Arlington Public Library will donate 10 cents of every dollar paid in fines to the Arlington Food Assistance Center.
This is the first year of the donation program, according to library spokesman Peter Golkin. The money will be coming from the Friends of the Public Library group, not from the fines themselves, which go back into the county budget.
The library brings in thousands of dollars in fines each week, Golkin said, but if residents don’t have a library book or movie overdue, they can still bring food donations to the library for AFAC. These are the items AFAC says it needs most at the moment:
- Cooking oil in plastic bottles
- Small bags of flour
- Canned tuna in water
- Low sugar cereals
- Low sodium soups
- Whole wheat pasta
Golkin noted the donation week will start a bit late Saturday. Arlington Central Library will be closed until 3:00 p.m. on Saturday due to a planned power outage as a result of construction on a nearby building. The library will stay open two hours later than normal — until 7:00 p.m. — Saturday evening to compensate. Other libraries will open at normal times, and donations will be collected at all locations.
AFAC Executive Director Charles Meng announced at the ceremony that AFAC raised 106,000 pounds of food over the past month, exceeding its goal of 100,000. At the Fill the Bus event this past weekend, in which donors helped fill an ART bus full of food, AFAC received more than 4,700 pounds. Meng thanked his predecessors and the organization’s founders, but reminded the dozens in the audience what work he feels there still is to do.
“There are almost 31,000 individuals in Arlington County who do not have enough to eat on a regular basis,” Meng said. “We service only a small part of that.”
Arlington County Board Chairman Walter Tejada, who volunteers at the center along with his wife, Robin, said AFAC is part of the “strong safety net” the less fortunate in Arlington need.
“AFAC has always been one of my favorite organizations,” Tejada said. “There are so many people here who really care.”
The event, at AFAC’s Shirlington-area distribution center, was scheduled to start at 3:00 p.m., but didn’t begin until 3:30 as AFAC representatives waited for the invited elected officials to show. Sheriff Beth Arthur and School Board Chair Abby Raphael arrived on time and Tejada walked in during Meng’s speech.
County Board Vice Chair Jay Fisette, state Sens. Barbara Favola (D-31) and Adam Ebbin (D-30), and Del. Patrick Hope (D-47), all of whom we were billed as expected guests, were no-shows for the speeches. Rep. Jim Moran (D-Va.) sent a staff member while he was on Capitol Hill negotiating on the eve of the government shutdown.
The Arlington Food Assistance Center is low on cereal, pasta, peanut butter and other food items.
AFAC volunteer coordinator Laura Jackson said the end of the summer is typically when its dry food stores are lowest because the center doesn’t conduct as many food drives while people are on vacation.
“It happens most summers,” she said. “We get a lot of produce donations from farmer’s markets during the summer, but a tomato is not the same thing as cereal.”
Other items AFAC is looking for donations are low-sodium soup, canned tuna in water, small bags of flour and cooking oils in plastic bottles.
The center is participating in the nationwide Hunger Action Month, with several events planned around Arlington to collect food and donations. The biggest event, Jackson said, is the Fill the Bus campaign the weekend of Sept. 27-29 at the Giant supermarket at 3115 Lee Highway. AFAC hopes to collect 20,000 pounds of food to fill an ART bus.
There are numerous food drives and even a screening of a movie among the other events planned for Hunger Action Month. More information on donating money or food to AFAC can be found on the organization’s web site.
The food drive will run from Saturday, Dec. 1 to Friday, Dec. 21. Firefighters will collect non-perishable food donations at fire stations in Arlington and Falls Church, and at the county government building at 2100 Clarendon Blvd in Courthouse. The donations will then be sent to AFAC, which is based in the Shirlington area.
AFAC is most in need of items like cereal, flour, cooking oil, pasta or canned tuna, according to a press release. The organization serves more than 4,000 adults and children on an average week.
“It’s a myth that no one in Arlington goes hungry,” Arlington Fire Chief James Schwartz said in a statement. “Every week, thousands of families and children need our help, just to survive. The men and women of ACFD want to do what they can to help our community, especially during this special time of year.”
The fire department will not be participating in the annual “Toys for Tots” drive this year.
In addition to the ACFD food drive, Arlington County will be running its annual Secret Santa program, which collects gift cards to be donated to needy families, seniors and Foster children.
The scouts will stop at homes in a number of neighborhoods to collect food donations to benefit Arlington Food Assistance Center (AFAC). They will directly visit residents who received bags and fliers last week explaining the drive. Out of courtesy for residents, scouts don’t knock on doors; instead residents are asked to leave food donations in plain sight near their front doors, by 9:00 a.m. All donations are expected to be collected by noon.
Residents who didn’t receive a bag on their door will not be visited by the scouts. These residents can still participate, however, by taking food donations to the Cherrydale or Harrison Street Safeway stores.
Suggested foods for donation include pasta, peanut butter, breakfast food, tuna, soup, fruit and beans. AFAC and the scouts both ask that items in glass jars are not donated.
The goal is to exceed last year’s total of 60,000 pounds of donated food.
Right now, AFAC serves about 1,400 people each week, but that may increase as temperatures grow colder.
Glee Star to Visit W-L Today — Glee star Lauren Potter and Best Buddies founder Anthony Shriver will be visiting Washington-Lee High School’s Best Buddies chapter at 3:00 p.m. today (Friday). “The Washington-Lee chapter of Best Buddies was ranked number one among DC-MD-VA chapters based on the quality of friendships, student leadership and dedication to the Best Buddies mission,” according to Arlington Public Schools. Potter, who has Down syndrome, is best known for her role as Becky Jackson on the hit Fox TV series.
Chef Beats Out ‘Chief’ in Culinary Competition — Eventide Chef Adam Barnett emerged as the big winner in the Arlington Food Assistance Center’s “Chiefs vs. Chefs” cooking competition between professional restaurant chefs and amateur firehouse cooks. AFAC hopes to turn the fundraiser into an annual event. [Sun Gazette]
Violent Crime Down in ACPD’s First District — Violent crime is down 15 percent in Arlington’s first police district, which encompasses much of North Arlington, minus Lyon Village, Clarendon, Courthouse and Rosslyn, according to police. The number of rapes are up, however; all of the instances involved a known suspect, not a random attacker. [Patch]
Pike Neighborhoods Plan Wins Award — The Columbia Pike Neighborhoods Area Plan, which aims to transform Columbia Pike into a more urban and walkable community while maintaining affordable housing, has won an award from the National Capital Area Chapter of the American Planning Association (APA). The plan won the “2012 Benjamin Banneker Award for Outstanding Social Commitment and Community” for demonstrating “sustained commitment to reach beyond the traditional scope of planning, particularly advancing social objectives.” [Arlington County]
LED Street Lights Draw Complaints — New energy-efficient LED street lighting has been drawing complaints from Arlington residents. Residents have complained that the new lights are too bright and too white. That has prompted county officials to install dimmers on the lights, which has driven up the cost of the new lighting. The county is also exploring the use of lighting that is less harsh but also less energy efficient. [Sun Gazette]
‘Chiefs vs. Chefs’ Cooking Challenge Tonight — Some of Arlington most notable chefs will be battling some of Arlington’s top firehouse cooks in a cooking challenge for charity tonight. The chefs — David Guas of Bayou Bakery, Todd Pozinsky of Carlyle in Shirlington and Adam Barnett of Eventide — will go up against the tastiest creations from Arlington’s bravest. ‘Chiefs vs. Chefs’ is taking place from 6:30 to 9:30 p.m. tonight at the Key Bridge Marriott (1401 Lee Highway). Tickets to the event, which benefits the Arlington Food Assistance Center, start at $100. [AFAC]
Transportation Advice for APS – Writing in response to the recent controversy over changes to busing at Arlington Public Schools, Greater Greater Washington writer and Arlington resident Steve Offutt says APS should look to Arlington County government for guidance on how to create a “real, 21st-century transportation plan” that isn’t so focused on buses. [Greater Greater Washington]
New Jeweler Coming to Clarendon — Alexandria-based B&C Jewelers will be opening a second location in Clarendon. The store will be opening at 2729 Wilson Boulevard, in the storefront once occupied by the Sisters3 boutique. [Patch]