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Despite financial challenges, Lynchburg-area eateries continue to give back

Despite financial challenges, Lynchburg-area eateries continue to give back


Although restaurants, breweries and other food-and-drink venues have been hit particularly hard by the COVID-19 pandemic, some in the Lynchburg area have continued their charitable giving or even increased it.

Dave Henderson owns The Water Dog restaurant at 1016 Jefferson St. and last year acquired The Glass House event venue at 1019 Jefferson St. The two together gave more than $10,000 in local in-kind and charitable donations in 2019, Henderson said.

“I think we as a business are very fortunate,” Henderson said. “Our community supports us so well, and it puts us in a position to give back, so I do that without any reservation or hesitation.”

The Water Dog has been a donor to local organizations such as the Academy Center of the Arts, Lynchburg Humane Society, Miller Home for Girls, Downtown Lynchburg Association, Spectrum Arts Society and the James River Advisory Council.

During the pandemic, Henderson said, he also has donated homemade soup and 800 pounds of chicken to the Lynchburg Daily Bread.

Henderson said since the COVID-19 pandemic began, he hasn’t changed his giving, even though the Water Dog had to close temporarily in March because of state regulations and then again in August after finding out an employee tested positive for COVID-19.

“COVID hit everyone real hard,” he said. “Empathy and compassion is a huge part of how I try to lead, whether that’s in my personal life, through business or in the community. When I hear or see of an organization that needs help and I can help them, then I’m going to do it.”

Beginning in June, a “Rosé Thursday” event has enabled The Glass House to donate $2 from every bottle of rosé sold to a different nonprofit each week. Last week, the event’s proceeds went toward HumanKind.

“It doesn’t take a lot; it just takes a good heart and some compassion and some determination,” Henderson said.

Giving back is something Mission House Coffee — which has a location downtown at 722 Commerce St. and another inside River Ridge mall — has been doing since its beginnings in October 2018.

Owner Tommy Clark said it’s become the core of what the company stands for.

“Even when COVID hit, we weren’t going to change that,” he said. “We are about the community and for the community and will never be anything else than that.”

During the beginning stages of the pandemic this past spring, the coffee house was intentional about providing donations for agencies such as Lynchburg Daily Bread, Park View Community Mission and the Virginia Legal Aid Society.

“We saw that the eviction process had opened back up, and we wanted to help,” Clark said. “Our switch became more intentional about where the greatest needs were at that time.”

He said like most other businesses, the coffee house was hit significantly by the pandemic. But it was COVID-19 that drove Clark to continue giving back in the the way he always had.

“It certainly has not been an easy time to walk through financially. We’re trying to take care of our employees and keep them working, and they’ve been willing to stick by us,” Clark said. “We made an intentional decision to not back off of what we do and not change anything about the way we interact with the people around us.”

Even before the pandemic, the coffee house made an effort to pick a nonprofit to donate to each month. For September, donations made by customers will be given to Kids’ Haven, an organization dedicated to serving the unique needs of grieving children and their families through support and education.

Clark said he likes partnering with organizations that have a timely need or are undiscovered and need better exposure in the community.

Even if the business can’t provide monetary help, Clark said he will donate coffee for certain community events or donate the space of the 1,600-square-foot building for events.

“Lynchburg is one of the strongest, locally supported areas as far as the community helping and it’s not looking for handouts, it’s looking for each of us to take care of our neighbors,” he said. “And as a small business that should be the core of who we are and glad we can be a part of that process.”

At Starr Hill on Main, at 1300 Main Street, the taproom donates to a different local nonprofit each month. The brewery will donate $1 from each beer sold this month to Miriam’s House, a nonprofit that works to end homelessness.

“The support of local businesses like Starr Hill and The Glass House allow us to continue helping our homeless neighbors during such a critical time,” Sarah Quarantotto, executive director of Miriam’s House, said. ”We know that COVID has impacted the business community just as it has nonprofits, and we are amazed by the generosity modeled by these generous businesses.”

Another business that chose to support Miriam’s House this summer was Simply Vanilla Gourmet Cheesecakes at 1381 Crossings Centre Dr., Suite C, in Forest.

It only just opened a storefront in November but owner Jessica Kercher said thanks to loyal customers in the community, she was able to continue online ordering and pick-up sales during COVID-19, which helped her be able to give back.

“Our hearts were full,” she said. “We were struggling as a startup business to begin with, but we asked how we could give back in the community. People are struggling to pay for rent and basic shelter. People need a place to call home.”

For a Christmas in July feature, Kercher decided she would match any donations her customers gave to the nonprofit. The business, with support from the community, ended up donating $1,000 to Miriam’s House.

“This was something we couldn’t afford not to do,” she said. “It’s something your heart takes a hold of. Nothing bad can come out of doing good.”

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