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by Heather Mongilio — October 29, 2015 at 10:35 am 0

(Updated at 5:25 p.m.) Local chefs walked away with big wins at a charity cooking competition in Clarendon last night.

The Arlington County Fire Department’s finest firehouse cooks faced off against three groups of local professional chefs in a reality TV-style cooking competition where the competitors had 25 minutes to whip up dishes using only ingredients found in the Arlington Food Assistance Center’s pantries.

Judges Scott Brodbeck of ARLnow.com, Becky Krystal of the Washington Post and Chef George Pagonis of Kapnos Taverna sampled each dish before choosing a winner of the round by ringing a large bell, signaling a vote for the firefighters, or putting on a chef’s hat. Chef David Guas of Bayou Bakery served as emcee for the night.

At the end of the night, the local chefs walked away from the Clarendon Ballroom (3185 Wilson Blvd) with two of the coveted “Golden Eggplant” awards.

Arlington County Fire Department’s Lt. Romulius Queen and firefighter Frank Rachal took home the first “Golden Eggplant” of the night with their Southern Style Fried Chicken topped with a homemade barbecue sauce and accompanied by a zucchini pasta with a thai peanut and ginger sauce. All three judges rang the bell.

“That fried chicken, he really nailed it,” Pagonis said.

Queen and Rachal beat out SER Restaurant chef and co-owner Josu Zubikarai, who made Rulada chicken ragout with mushrooms and spicy vegetables.

It was Queen’s first time competing in AFAC’s Chiefs vs. Chefs event.

“It feels good to go home with a trophy instead of going home crying,” he said.

Chef Tom Madrecki of Chez le Commis took home the second “Eggplant” with his caramelized onion soup with buttermilk, accompanied by homemade bread with butter. He earned the votes of two out of the three judges for his simple but flavorful soup.

Cooking with only the food in AFAC’s pantry was a challenge, Madrecki said.

“It’s reflective of what thousands of Arlington families have to do every day, so it’s very rewarding,” he said.

Facing off against ACFD’s finest brought its own difficulties as the firefighters were both skilled chefs and have a connection to the community, Madrecki said. Votes for the firefighters were applauded by the crowd, whereas votes for the chefs were greeted by good-natured boos.

“We’re the underdogs as the chef because they’re the ones out in the community everyday,” he said. “They’re the ones protecting us so it’s an honor to cook with them.”

Cooking is part of the firehouse lifestyle, said Acting Chief Joesph Reshetar, adding that the firefighters often try out new dishes on their coworkers.

“The firehouse is where they experiment,” he said. “If you can please us, if you can please a group of people, you know you’re on to something.”


by Heather Mongilio — August 12, 2015 at 10:25 am 0

Spa Swag for Warriors logo

(Updated at 10:55 a.m.) A new Arlington-based nonprofit is looking to make the lives of female military personnel overseas more comfortable.

Spa Swag for Warriors is a women-owned charity that sends high-quality bath products — such as lavender-scented face wipes, skin creams, loofahs, shampoo, conditioner and lotion — to female service members serving abroad.

CEO and founder Lacey Chong said she started the organization after speaking with her friend Becca, a Marine Corps officer who was helping with the Ebola crisis in West Africa. The Marine told Chong about the limited access to bath products, which prompted Chong to collect items and send them over for Becca and other women to use “after a hard day of work serving our country.”

“Female soldiers put up with a lot overseas — unsanitary conditions, post-traumatic stress disorder, sexual assault and long hard days,” Chong said in a press release. “I think women instinctively understand that providing restorative products to deployed female service members can have an immediate impact on their morale and well-being.”

The nonprofit’s goal is to bring comfort to female service members, Chong said.

Female service member with spa goods

“We… aim to improve the morale and well-being of deployed female service members by providing high quality bath and body products,” she said.

The organization has mailed care packages across the world, including to countries in West Africa, East Africa, the Middle East and Southeast Asia.

“The items are hand-picked from socially responsible companies,” said the press release. “So far, the organization has been successful in securing donations of most-wanted items from companies such as Cate McNabb, Tom’s of Maine, Murad and Arbonne.”

The non-profit is looking for donations of the most-wanted bath products, including dry shampoo, eye cream, makeup remover and sleep masks. Donations can be mailed to Spa Swag for Warriors at P.O. Box 17207, Arlington, VA 22216.

Photos via Spa Swag for Warriors

by Ethan Rothstein — March 4, 2015 at 11:30 am 0

This Friday afternoon, an Arlington family is hosting an ice skating fundraiser to help fund childhood cancer research, in memory of the daughter they lost to the disease.

Ellen and Tom Blair lost their daughter, Catherine Elizabeth Blair, in 2011 to neuroblastoma, a deadly cancer that mostly affects children younger than 5 years old, according to the Mayo Clinic. In her memory, they started the Catherine Elizabeth Blair Foundation to provide grants to researchers searching for a cure for the disease that kills more than 60 percent of those afflicted.

Friday’s event, Skate for Catherine, is the foundation’s largest fundraiser, now in its fourth years. From 1:30-3:00 p.m. at Kettler Capitals Iceplex (627 N. Glebe Road), attendees will skate on the ice and participate in raffles for prizes like an iPad mini or a package of tickets to Capitals, Wizards and D.C. United games.

“Even though the reason is serious, the event is a lot of fun,” Ellen Blair says in the foundation’s promotional video, embedded above. “Catherine would have loved it. It’s a skating party with food, music, lots of prizes and your friends will be there.”

Tickets for the event are $20 and include skate rental and refreshments. The deadline for purchasing online is today (Wednesday), but tickets can be purchased at the door. Blair told ARLnow.com this morning that the event typically sells out, so online purchasing is strongly encouraged.

by Ethan Rothstein — February 25, 2015 at 11:00 am 3,890 0

Jennifer Bush-Lawson and her kids (photo via the Jennifer Bush-Lawson Foundation)On the one-year anniversary of his wife’s death in a car accident in front of Nottingham Elementary School, Neal Lawson launched a foundation in her honor.

The Jennifer Bush-Lawson Foundation formally launched yesterday with a mission, according to a press release, of providing funding for “access to medical services, counseling and support for economically vulnerable mothers-to-be, newborn babies and postpartum mothers who don’t have the means or resources to start their journey on solid footing.”

Bush-Lawson was killed the morning of Feb. 24, 2014, while loading her daughter, Sadie, into a car seat on N. Little Falls Road. A passing dump truck hit the minivan’s door, which was sheared off the vehicle and into Beth-Lawson. She was pronounced dead at Inova Fairfax Hospital that afternoon.

Bush-Lawson was a 39-year-old mother of three children — two of whom attend Nottingham — and her husband decided to use her memory to put action behind one of her passions: helping other mothers.

“Jennifer was an amazing wife, mother and woman,” Neal Lawson, founder and CEO of the foundation, said in the release. “There is no better way to honor her memory than providing mothers-to-be the opportunity to be the best mother possible and providing newborn babies a healthy start at life.”

Bush-Lawson’s three children — Cooper, Booker and the youngest, Sadie — were all born premature, according to the JB-LF foundation’s website, and the care they received inspired Bush-Lawson to want the same for those less fortunate.

“Lawson dedicated her life to her children and to being the best mother possible,” the press release states. “She believed that every mother — regardless of race, color, creed, or economic status — should have an opportunity to do the same.”

The JB-LF has partnered with Virginia Hospital Center and the Arlington Pediatric Center to provide resources to pregnant women and new mothers. The foundation is also planning on hosting a silent auction and “celebrity chef dinner” in the spring, and a memorial 5K race in the fall.

The driver of the dump truck that struck Beth-Lawson’s car was charged with “failure to pay full time and attention,” a traffic infraction. The accident led neighbors to call for increased safety measures in the Williamsburg neighborhood.

According to WJLA, the community has added a speed and message board on N. Little Falls Road, the Arlington County Police Department has increased its presence in the area and the county has added “bike share lanes.” One community member told the TV station the road “does feel a little bit safer.”

Photo via JB-LF

by Ethan Rothstein — November 14, 2014 at 1:30 pm 0

Bikes for the World logoArlington-based charity Bikes for the World, which takes used bikes and ships them to underprivileged communities around the world, will donate its 100,000th bicycle tomorrow.

The charity will send the bike as part of a shipment of 500 bicycles to Costa Rica, to be distributed to workers who use the bikes as part of their jobs in their rural economy, according to a Bikes of the World press release.

Bikes of the World has been sending bikes around the world, to places like the Philippines, Ghana and Afghanistan. The bikes help children get to school and help families climb out of poverty by providing reliable transportation. The bikes also provide jobs for people in the receiving countries, who get work reconditioning the bicycles once they arrive.

The 100,000th bike will be loaded into a shipping container tomorrow at noon at 1420 S. Eads Street as part of America Recycles Day. All of the bikes the nonprofit ships are donated by Americans in eight states and D.C., and recycled for their use internationally.

Image via Bikes for the World

by Ethan Rothstein — November 13, 2014 at 11:15 am 0

UberOffices in RosslynAn Arlington County breast cancer charity is organizing a “B.F.F.” — “Breast Friends Forever” — fundraiser in Rosslyn next week.

The Sharon McGowan Breast Health Fund is holding the happy hour fundraiser at the ÜberOffices coworking space, at 1400 Key Blvd, from 6:30 to 8:30 p.m. on Thursday, Nov. 20.

Beer and appetizers will be served, The event is free to register for, but a donation is highly encouraged.

Proceeds from the event help the fund pay for “free mammograms, sonograms, biopsies, medical devices, and [breast cancer] medications” for uninsured men and women in Arlington and Falls Church.

McGowan was an Arlington resident and mother of seven children who succumbed to breast cancer in 1997. Her niece, Jaimie, will be at the happy hour — which doubles as a young professional networking event — encouraging those in attendance to find a “breast friend” to “buddy up with and remind each other to get annual mammographies.”

by Ethan Rothstein — October 24, 2014 at 2:30 pm 2,999 0

Firefighters gather during a Falls Church office fireThirteen Arlington County firefighters plan to run the Marine Corps Marathon this Sunday in full gear that can weigh up to 45 pounds.

The firefighters are running the 26.2 miles around Arlington and D.C. to raise money for multiple sclerosis after a firefighter named Josh — who doesn’t want his last name released for privacy reasons — was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis in June. Josh worked out of Fire Station 6 in East Falls Church with firefighter Jake Pike, who is organizing the run.

“Our brother Josh is the glue of our firehouse, the jokester, the infectious personality that always smiles and is always positive,” Pike wrote on the fundraising page for the National Multiple Sclerosis Society’s website. “In June 2014, our Captain came into the room with very solemn news. The glue of the crew and our brother had been in the ER all night and was diagnosed with MS.

“It is the only time I have heard our firehouse completely quiet. Not a sound from 12 strong A-list personalities was heard. The room went dead silent. At that moment you could feel that something left the room. It was devastating news. For the next few days each one of us grappled with the news, studied and read as much about MS as we could and some went home and cried. We were in shock.”

Pike told ARLnow.com today that a few weeks later, he and the other firefighters at Station 6 had resolved to run the Marine Corps Marathon to raise money for MS research and to support, as Pike called him, “our brother.”

“It wasn’t long enough to train for a marathon, but was kind of the perfect opportunity to do something,” Pike said. “We told him after the fact and he got mad at us because he didn’t want to draw attention to it. He’s a private guy, but I think he appreciates it. He’ll be there at the finish line for us.”

Some of the 13 participants will be wearing pressurized oxygen tanks and helmets, while others will just be wearing the suits, Pike said. The firefighters are nervous about the suits, Pike said, since they are designed to retain heat and weather forecasts are calling for an unseasonably warm day.

“None of us have run it before, and we’re not runners,” Pike said with a nervous laugh. “The biggest challenge for us is the weather. So if it’s hot and humid like it’s supposed to be, that’s going to be an issue. Then there’s the five-hour mark, you have the hit the [14th Street Bridge] in five hours or you’re not going to finish.”

Regardless of the result, Pike and his colleagues have already raised $5,630 for the MS society, and hope to raise even more Sunday when the tens of thousands of runners and spectators see the group of firefighters in full gear running alongside. A large contingent of the Arlington County Fire Department is expected to attend to support the group, and Josh.

“It’s really for the guy we wake up next to every day,” Pike said, “so hopefully it makes it easier for him.”

You can donate to their cause and help them reach their $30,000 fundraising goal here.

File photo

by Ethan Rothstein — October 2, 2014 at 10:00 am 0

Ben's Chili Bowl opening in RosslynBen’s Chili Bowl, less than a year after opening in Rosslyn (1725 Wilson Blvd), is hosting a a day of children’s activities and charity fundraisers for its new neighbors this weekend.

The community day will take place on Saturday, Oct. 4, from 11:00 a.m. to 4:00 p.m., in the parking lot of the Colonial Village Shopping Center. Ben’s is hosting face painting and balloon animals for children, and the Arlington County Fire Department will bring a fire engine for kids to tour while learning about fire prevention and safety. There will also be games with “various prizes.”

Ben’s will also be hosting a canned food drive to benefit the Arlington Food Assistance Center. Anyone who brings in cans will get 10 percent off their next meal at the restaurant.

“Ben’s truly appreciates the excellent work that AFAC does,” Ben’s co-owner Vida Ali said in a press release, “so for this Community Day and beyond we choose to support their efforts as much as possible.”

There will also be two raffles Ben’s is hosting: anyone who pledges to “stand up against bullying,” in honor of October being National Bullying Prevention Month, will be entered into a raffle for a free lunch for two; anyone who brings in a 300 words or less story about how they gave back to the community will also be entered into a raffle for a free lunch for two people.

“Ben’s is first and foremost about family and community,” the release said. “Now, a new chapter has begun in Arlington and Ben’s is happy to invite everyone in the community to come out and enjoy a wonderful day of giving and celebrating life.”

File photo

by Ethan Rothstein — September 11, 2014 at 11:15 am 0

Daisy (right) and Tulip (photo courtesy AWLA)With domestic violence in the news, the Animal Welfare League of Arlington is spreading the word about a program that allows those in dire situations to shelter their pets.

The nonprofit organization, located at 2650 S. Arlington Mill Drive, has a program called “Safekeeping.” The program allows pet owners in Arlington and Falls Church to shelter their pets at AWLA for up to two weeks while the owner is coping with an emergency, like domestic violence, losing a home or the owner’s death.

With the national spotlight thrust on domestic violence after video surfaced of Baltimore Ravens running back Ray Rice punching his then-fiancée, AWLA is hoping to remind abuse victims that their pet’s well-being could be at risk as well as their own.

“A strong connection has been documented linking animal abuse and domestic violence,” said AWLA spokeswoman Kerry McKeel. “Women often delay their decision to leave an abusive partner out of concern for the safety of their pets.”

The National Coalition Against Domestic Violence reports that 83 percent of women and 63 percent of children, after having arrived at a domestic violence shelter — such as Doorways for Women and Families — reported incidents of pet abuse.

“At AWLA our steadfast mission throughout the year is to improve the lives of animals and one way in which we accomplish this objective is through our Safekeeping program,” McKeel said. “Animals often give continuity and hope during a crisis, so it is distressing for many when they feel forced to part with a pet due to their circumstance. During a crisis, pet owners often just need some short-term help to get back on their feet and that is what we offer through the Safekeeping program.”

Animals can be sheltered at AWLA for two weeks at a time, and the owners are required to check on the pet’s welfare after one week, AWLA says. There is no limit for how many times an animal can be sheltered in case of emergency. McKeel said that, since Safekeeping was launched as a service in 2005, more than 200 animals have been sheltered.

File photo courtesy AWLA

by Ethan Rothstein — July 8, 2014 at 6:00 pm 0

NextGenNow Check Presentation (photo courtesy NextGenNow)The year-old young philanthropists group NextGenNow, a part of the Arlington Community Foundation, gave its first-ever grant to a summer reading program.

The grant, for $5,000, was given to The Reading Connection’s “We Are Readers” program, which enables at-risk children to keep up with their peers when they might not normally have access to reading materials. NextGenNow had determined its cause for the grant would be helping children and families, and chose the Alexandria-based group out of 20 nonprofits that applied.

NextGenNow was launched a year ago to “engage young professionals in philanthropy,” according to a press release.

“The Arlington Community Foundation has long been a proud supporter of literacy initiatives all across the County,” Arlington Community Foundation Executive Director Wanda L. Pierce said in the release. “That NextGenNow members chose to support We Are Readers out of so many worthy proposals speaks to the importance of providing all young children with equal access to this critical skill.”

Kevin Shooshan, director of leasing and marketing for The Shooshan Company, is co-chair of NextGenNow with Susan Anderson, who works in the Arlington County Treasurer’s Office. Shooshan said “NextGenNow is just getting started.”

“”I’m so excited about where NextGenNow is today, a little over a year after launching this effort,” Shooshan told ARLnow.com in an email. “We’re lucky to be in a community in which we can pull together so many people in such a short time with a common goal, and ultimately help others who are truly in need.”

Photo courtesy NextGenNow

by ARLnow.com — June 30, 2014 at 3:35 pm 1,164 0

AFAC celebrates 25th anniversaryArlington has fallen in a ranking of “most generous online cities,” but remains near the top of the heap.

Arlington is the 7th most-generous locality (with a population over 100,000) in the U.S. according to new rankings from Blackbaud, a software company dealing in fundraising solutions for nonprofits.

Arlington residents made 72,031 chartitable online donations that were tracked by Blackbaud, for a total of $7.3 million. That’s $33,671 per 1,000 residents.

Washington, D.C. ranked as the fourth most generous city and Alexandria ranked second. In Alexandria, $47,192 was donated online per 1,000 residents D.C. averaged $38,172 donated per 1,000 residents.

The nation’s “most generous city” was Seattle, with $53,542 in donations per 1,000 residents.

Arlington ranked fourth on Blackbaud’s list last year. But Blackbaud spokeswoman Nicole McGougan said the company increased the survey size for its most recent rankings, which makes a direct comparison to last year’s rankings impossible.

“Comparing the data is like comparing apples and oranges,” McGougan said.

The top 10 “most generous online cities” on this year’s list are:

  1. Seattle, Wash.
  2. Alexandria, Va.
  3. Atlanta, Ga.
  4. Washington, D.C.
  5. Cambridge, Ma.
  6. Ann Arbor, Mich.
  7. Arlington, Va.
  8. Cincinnati, Ohio
  9. Bellevue, Wash.
  10. San Francisco, Calif.

by ARLnow.com — June 18, 2014 at 12:05 pm 2,277 0

Brown flip flops Tropical Smoothie Cafe in Virginia Square

Friday is apparently the 8th annual “National Flip Flop Day,” and the Tropical Smoothie Cafe store in Virginia Square will be giving out free smoothies to mark the occasion.

From 2:00 to 7:00 p.m., the store at 3811 N. Fairfax Drive will be giving away free 24 ounce strawberry banana smoothies to anyone wearing flip flops, according to owner Marcus Barnett.

“This is a nationwide event that all Tropical Smoothies will be participating in and is absolutely free to anyone that comes in wearing flip flops,” Barnett told ARLnow.com. “Donations will be accepted… all proceeds will go to benefit Camp Sunshine.”

Camp Sunshine is a retreat in Maine for children with life-threatening illnesses. It’s offered free of charge to children and their immediate families and offers on-site medical and psychosocial support.

by Ethan Rothstein — June 3, 2014 at 12:00 pm 1,767 0

AFAC Executive Director Charles MengThe 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.”

by Ethan Rothstein — May 22, 2014 at 3:30 pm 0

Shepherd's Men (photo via Facebook)(Updated at 4:00 p.m.) Seven U.S. Marines, one member of the U.S. Navy and one civilian are in the middle of running the 684 miles from Atlanta to Arlington to raise awareness for traumatic brain injuries among veterans.

The crew left Atlanta Monday morning, according to organizer and the lone civilian runner, Travis Ellis. They plan to conclude their journey at the U.S. Marine Corps War Memorial near Rosslyn Sunday at noon.

The group calls themselves “Shepherd’s Men,” after the Shepherd Center in Atlanta, Ga., which houses the SHARE Military Initiative, a privately owned facility that treats veterans for traumatic brain injuries, including post-traumatic stress disorder. Ellis said it’s the only private facility in the country focused on veterans’ brain injuries, a status quo he hopes to change.

“It’s estimated that approximately 300,000 of those deployed in the last 13 years have been diagnosed with a traumatic brain injury,” Ellis told ARLnow.com while taking a break from running to Lynchburg, Va., this afternoon. “Every 65 minutes, a veteran or active duty member takes his or her own life. More needs to be done to help serve them and lift them up when they return home.”

While the Shepherd’s Men are running, they hope to raise $100,000, which would fund the SHARE program for a full month, he said. His hope is that more private programs serving veterans will arise as a result of increased awaress; the SHARE program only has capacity to serve 40 patients a year.

Each of the nine runners is covering about 13 miles per day, Ellis said, with each runner covering four miles on Sunday for their final leg from Manassas to the Iwo Jima memorial.

The seven-day endurance challenge has been in planning since January, Ellis said, with all the runners undergoing rigorous training programs to prepare them (although that didn’t prevent some nasty blisters).  That their cause aligns with the growing scandal surrounding patient care at VA hospitals is coincidental.

“It’s purely coincidence,” Ellis said. “Everything related to that just serves as example for the need for private institutions with the ability and capacity for these services.”

Photo via Facebook

by Ethan Rothstein — April 10, 2014 at 3:30 pm 2,450 0

A street corner in Rosslyn transformed into a red carpet scene for an hour this morning, all to make a little girl’s wish come true.

Five-year-old Addy — who is suffering from a Wilms Tumor, a form of kidney cancer that affects young children — wished to become a pop star. Through the efforts of the Make-A-Wish Foundation’s Mid-Atlantic chapter, Addy’s wish played out in front of the WJLA building in Rosslyn, on the corner of N. Lynn Street and Wilson Blvd.

There, Addy shot a scene for a music video as part of her pop star wish. Make-A-Wish, with an assist from the Rosslyn Business Improvement District, asked people in Rosslyn to hold signs, cheer for the starlet and hold out photos for Addy to autograph.

The proceedings started a little later than anticipated because, as the director told the gathered crowd, the pop star was suffering from “stage fright.” Once Addy emerged from her stretch limousine gripping her mother’s hand tightly, the crowd softly cheered, bringing an immediate smile to the purple-wigged 5-year-old. After that, Addy strutted in front of the crowd for multiple takes.

The music video is set to be released in May.


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