How One Rural Virginia Restaurant Is Taking Care of Vulnerable Families
When Tiffany and Bruno Silva first started hearing about statewide closures due to COVID-19 and began considering how they would shift operations at their restaurant, their first thought was the local public school system.
“I immediately reached out to the schools and quickly found out that they were closing without a real plan to feed the people that depend on them for meals,” said Tiffany, who co-owns and runs The Landing restaurant with her husband, Bruno, in southwestern Virginia. Within days, they had shifted their business from a relaxed resort restaurant on the waterfront of Smith Mountain Lake to a takeout-only model and community kitchen, serving dozens of area families in need.
Nestled in the Blue Ridge foothills, the relaxed lakeside community boasts 500 miles of shoreline straddling two counties, and The Landing is a quick boat ride away from my parents, who moved to Smith Mountain Lake over a decade ago. My mom and dad run into the Silvas at the grocery store, and I’ve had more than one phone conversation home end with a passed-along greeting from Barb, our regular waitress, whose section my parents always request to be seated in. They catered my wedding five years ago, and it was one of the first restaurants my husband and I brought our daughter to after she was born; after fitting her carseat into an overturned high chair, we allowed ourselves to fully relax as she fell asleep to the hum and chatter around us.
COVID-19 has forced widespread school closings across the country, with many states pivoting to online learning through the end of the school year. In New York City, where I live, Mayor Bill de Blasio announced the shuttering of public schools on March 16, following weeks of complaints about safety from parents and teachers. The announcement was followed by a scramble to figure out how to feed the over 1 million kids who depend on school meals in the city each day.
As schools closed in Virginia, Tiffany started making calls, asking local administrators to talk to their most vulnerable families and encourage them to reach out to her if they got worried about food. Overnight, a list of 25 formed and The Landing Love Project was born.
“This is an area where approximately 50% of students receive free or reduced meals, and while I know the schools are trying to fill the gaps the best that they can for the kids, there are a lot of people in the community that need more than that,” Tiffany said.
Four weeks into the project, Tiffany and Bruno have been able to keep their entire staff of nine employed—remarkable, given the National Restaurant Association’s announcement that two-thirds of restaurant employees have lost their jobs—as they prepare and organize the delivery of over 5,000 meals to local families and seniors.
All delivery drivers are volunteers (including my parents), covering an area of over 40 miles in multiple directions across two counties with fully-cooked meals that usually mimic the restaurant’s family meals, like the smoked brisket, whipped potatoes, green beans, rolls, and homemade strawberry cakes that went out for Easter (along with 178 kids' Easter baskets).
Sustained by local donations thus far, they’re in the process of forming a board and registering the project as a 501(c)(3) organization.
"This is something we see continuing long after coronavirus ends," said Tiffany. "The current situation has identified a real need in our community; we have always been a family but pulling together to survive these crazy times and finding purpose in helping our community has taken things to a new level.”
Donations to The Landing Love Project can be made here.