For many, Thanksgiving this year will look much different than it did in 2019. But for Sharita Rouse in Manassas, things will look largely the same, just with more masks.
For the second year, the owner of Old Town’s Tummy-Yum Yum candy apple shop will be serving a hot Thanksgiving meal – outside – to locals in need. Last year, Rouse said, she and a group of staff and volunteers served about 80 meals. Because of the pandemic, she’s planning for as many as 200 this year.
There’s nothing new about serving free food for Rouse and her team. They’ve been giving out free lunches with whatever they can throw together for years and increased their free service during the pandemic, which has left many more people food insecure than before.
But as they were last year, this week’s offerings will be special. The menu reads like something straight out of a Betty Crocker cookbook: turkey, ham, fried chicken, collard greens, mashed potatoes, candied yams, mac ‘n’ cheese and more. Dessert will be an assortment of pies and candies.
Preparations for the 10 to 12 staff members and volunteers began in earnest Sunday and go through Wednesday, when the meals are served. The shop is closed Thanksgiving Day.
“A lot of people are alone for the holidays; they don’t have any family, any friends, any food. And we just want to be an extension of that, whatever we can do,” Rouse said.
This year, the shop has also taken clothing and toiletry donations to hand out to those who need them. Rouse’s biggest challenge has been making space inside her small shop, which will remain open to sell treats through Wednesday. Rouse says she has raised about $1,600 in donations to help offset all the costs, including a large storage unit for the clothing items.
Since businesses were forced to close in March and April, Rouse has seen first-hand the economic impact of the pandemic. Early on, people she’d never seen before stopped by asking for a hot meal.
“Sometimes it’s just an older couple, the husband is working and the wife is laid off and they have a child. Well, I’m going to feed everybody,” Rouse told InsideNoVa back in the spring.
For herself, she’ll get some rest at home on Thursday. “Probably get some takeout,” she said.
Rouse and her team also received some early encouragement. Just last week, Rouse received a letter from U.S. Sen. Mark Warner, expressing appreciation for her service.
“The last few months have been extraordinarily difficult, and so many Virginians have experienced great hardship. In the face of this suffering, you made the choice to expand your efforts to provide hot meals to those in need through your shop, Tummy-Yum Yum,” the letter reads. “I commend you for your compassion and generosity.”
Rouse said she teared up at the recognition.
“I’m already a bucket of tears, so I got all misty-eyed,” she said. “I just appreciate this. You never know who’s watching you. And it lets me know that I’m doing something right.”