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Diner converts to food pantry during pandemic to feed community

Posted at 8:58 PM, Oct 05, 2020

If you can’t handle the heat, stay out of John Wood’s kitchen. The owner of 29 Diner has a big personality, but he might have a bigger heart.

“We have the philosophy that we want to put the community first, always, but especially during the pandemic,” said Wood.

While many restaurants have been trying to figure out how to serve takeout and keep the lights on, Wood and his team have been trying to figure out how to feed people in need.

“We decided that we were going to turn our restaurant into a free food pantry and a free food kitchen,” said Wood.

It started as a way to feed kids who wouldn’t be getting meals at schools anymore during the pandemic, but the 29 Diner team saw the need was greater.

“We knew that we needed to do more than just feed the kids. So we decided to not only provide hot meals but we needed to open a community pantry as well,” said Wood.

29 Diner has been a staple in Fairfax, Virginia, for a long time.

“We love the service. It’s so friendly and being part of the community, it feels so natural,” said Melissa Schous, a customer who stopped in for lunch.

Wood has been providing free meals and groceries to whoever needs them since the pandemic hit.

“The diner became a seven-day-a-week, 12-hour-a-day free food pantry, free food kitchen, feeding thousands of meals daily. We had cars that wrapped around the diner feeding 60 to 80 families a day,” said Wood.

The diner takes donations online, or in person with donation jars all around the diner. They use that money to buy the food they give away.

While there wasn’t anyone coming in to grab food today, the diner converted their food truck into a mobile food pantry to deliver food throughout the community.

Wood's willingness to help others in need is benefiting his business in other ways.

And while Wood is willing to do what he takes to give his community a hand up, it’s having other benefits for his business.

“Expanded our hours of operation here, we hired additional folks. So we completely reversed the trends of the pandemic of the impact into a small business, because we were taking care of our community,” said Wood.

That’s right, 29 Diner is hiring, in this economy!

Wood wouldn’t say he exact numbers, but said before the pandemic, he had enough cash to last a few months if business took a turn. Since his efforts to feed Fairfax, he’s seen that pile increase which he says he wants to use to keep feeding families.

“We believe that if we touch you in the heart, if you believe in our community, you’ll want to come in and give us your money. You’re going to want to come in and patronize our business because of our goodwill to the community,” said Wood.

And if you’re they’re for the good will, you might want to try the food too.

“You walk in, they greet you like you’ve been there before and the food just feels like your aunt cooked it,” said Schous.

Nothing like a hot meal to fill your belly, and maybe your heart too.