FAIRFAX, Va. – For nearly 75 years, Fairfax locals looking to grab a bite turned to the 29 Diner.
“I came with my dad when I was four years old to get a chocolate milkshake,” said John Wood, who now owns the Virginia diner.
It’s still a go-to spot for many, including students from nearby Fairfax High School, like Aashray Manchanda.
“29 Diner has always been like a nice, close-knit place, where the community can get together,” he said.
Now, though, it’s becoming something else for the community: a beacon of hope during a dark time.
“We began cooking hot meals that were free to all of our at-risk youth,” Wood said. “We started to collect canned foods.”
That was more than two months ago. From there, blossomed the 29 Diner’s “Community First Initiative,” which includes a community pantry inside the diner that now feeds local families in need.
“Folks can come in and get non-perishable foods, things for the refrigerator, household items, health care items for free, seven days a week, here at the diner,” Wood said.
They decided to do more, though: cooking more than 400 meals a day for local first responders and medical personnel, as well. So far, they’ve prepared nearly 20,000 meals.
“As those programs began to grow, we were able to feed a lot more,” Wood said.
Yet, Wood’s efforts are also inspiring others in the community to pitch in, like Aashray Manchanda.
“I love the work he is doing,” he said.
Manchanda helped start “Hack the Pandemic,” which is 3D printing hundreds of face masks for local medical personnel, who can pick them up at the diner for free.
“That way, they’re able to people to continue donating food to people in need and I’m able to continue getting medical equipment to those people in need,” Manchanda said.
It’s a change of purpose for the diner.
Business there is down 80% since the pandemic began. Despite that, John Wood calls it a blessing to be able to do what they’re doing and keep employees working, with donations making it all possible.
“We just do what's right: make the decisions that will better our community, help our community in need,” he said, “and then that makes our community cheer that much louder for us.”