Proclaiming “no one should go to bed hungry,” Loudoun County opened its doors to the newly expanded Dulles South Soup Kitchen at the Shoppes at Ryan Park in Ashburn on Sept. 22.
Replete with state-of-the art kitchen with brand new appliances, the Dulles South Soup Kitchen now occupies the space formerly vacated by The Pavilion at BeanTree and donated to it by developer David Gregory.
This is where South Riding resident Davina Mahapatra and her team, which includes Manassas, Virginia-based Rangoli owner and Chef Kumar Iyer, will continue to prepare freshly prepared hot meals for those county families who cannot afford to provide them.
“Hunger in Loudoun County shows up in unexpected ways. They are not necessarily people on the road. These are people who constantly have to make the decision, is it going to be rent or is it going to be milk? Is it going to be utilities or is it going to be prescription medicine? That is what hunger looks like. It is camouflaged. You can’t see it,” Mahapatra said.
According to the nonprofit Loudoun Hunger Relief, there are around 16,000 people who suffer from food insecurity with nearly half ineligible for the federal SNAP or supplemental food assistance nutrition program in Loudoun County, which US News in July ranked as the wealthiest county in the nation with a median income of $147,111.
However, income doesn’t tell the full story as many people live from paycheck to paycheck, some working two to three jobs a day, so if they come to a food pantry or kitchen it is because they have to feed their families noted Loudoun Board of Supervisors Chair Phyllis Randall.
“And it is important for us to make sure they do that with dignity so they don’t feel embarrassed when they do,” Randall added.
Providing food for those less fortunate is something that comes as second nature to Mahapatra, who grew up seeing her parents provide meals every day for the many people who came knocking at their door in Odisha (formerly known as Orissa), an eastern Indian state on the Bay of Bengal. As they laid out a spread for the homeless, their family mantra was “serve everyone with dignity.”
Mahapatra moved to the U.S. in 2001 in her teens. She moved to Loudoun County from Maryland in 2016, settling in the South Riding neighborhood with her husband and two children where she discovered there was no soup kitchen at which to volunteer. As an active volunteer with the Meals on Wheels program and the Frederick Rescue Mission, the new resident after looking for some time decided, “I am going to start one of my own.”
When she launched the soup kitchen at the height of the pandemic in late 2020, Mahapatra was cooking herself, providing up to 20,000 meals in the facility’s first year of existence. However, Mahapatra soon realized that if she was going to expand the operations she couldn’t devote her time solely to cooking.
“Volunteers are the secret sauce of success to the Dulles South Soup Kitchen,” according to the website, which invites members of the community to help and serve just as she had done in her growing up years.
During a tour of the new facility, Mahapatra said the soup kitchen, which is open Monday through Friday, prepares meals from fresh vegetables from several farms in Loudoun that grow produce solely for donating to food banks.
These include JK Community Farms in Purcellville, said Erica Huddleston, co-facilitator of the Loudoun Food Providers Network, which includes the Dulles South Soup Kitchen.
The Dulles South Food Kitchen does not serve people on its premises. Rather, it enables people to sign up on its website to pick up freshly prepared mac-n-cheese, or alfredo fettucine at designated times and spots around the county. The kitchen also donates meals to local food banks and shelters.
“We have no fryers on the premises. We avoid fried foods,” Mahapatra said, adding “but we throw in a few veggies into the pasta to lure children to eat.” During the lean winter months, the kitchen has stocked up on cans of vegetables.
Present for the launch was Randall, who said nonprofits and faith-based communities don’t get enough credit for the work they do to sustain the community. “They do things that honestly we cannot do and do not do,” she added.
“I didn’t know she was so capable,” said Dev Mahapatra, whose eyes welled up with unshed tears and pride as he watched his daughter cut the ribbon to the kitchen, flanked by Randall and Broad Run District Supervisor Sylvia Glass as well as representatives of Loudoun Food Providers Network, who are partners in the endeavor.