Alexandria businesses put the “community” in “business community”

French crepery Fontaine, located on South Royal Street in Old Town, donates food, time and services to several local nonprofit organizations. (Photo credit: Cody Mello-Klein)

By Cody Mello-Klein |

Thousands of residents donate to local nonprofits both during ACT for Alexandria’s Spring2ACTion – for which early giving is already underway leading up to the April 10 day of giving – and throughout the year.

But philanthropy in Alexandria is not limited to individuals and families; many of the city’s businesses are integrated into Alexandria’s fabric and give back to the community in ways both big and small.

Alexandria’s thriving, hyperlocal community of restaurants, boutiques and service providers are more than just storefronts offering goods. Some are also hubs that play a central role in the community that supports them.

The term “business community” applies to Alexandria in more ways than one.

“Businesses as small as Fontaine … or as large as Dominion, it takes a business community to make change happen,” Marion Brunken, head of Volunteer Alexandria, said.

For businesses interested in giving back, Volunteer Alexandria is a gateway to service and community engagement. As part of its programming, Volunteer Alexandria pairs businesses with areas of need in Alexandria.

Silverado Alexandria Memory Care Community, an assisted living facility on King Street, found a unique way to contribute to its community through Volunteer Alexandria’s business connections program.

“One of the Silverado standards is that we participate in the community wherever we are located,” Jane Hughes, a family ambassador, said. “In this community, we’re fortunate enough to be right down the street from T.C. Williams [High School].”

One of Silverado’s residents makes sandwiches for T.C. Williams students for snacks before football practice. (Photo courtesy of Silverado)

Silverado’s proximity to the high school and the vast amount of need for meals at T.C. Williams – around 60 percent of T.C. Williams students are eligible for free lunches, according to Brunken – provided the perfect opportunity for Silverado residents to pitch in.

“Our residents can do all sorts of different things but particularly an assembly line sort of production,” Hughes said. “[Brunken] told me there was a need at T.C. Williams for snacks before football practice, so we jumped on that.”

During football season, Silverado residents made 25 peanut butter and jelly sandwiches and 50 ham and cheese sandwiches for T.C. Williams’ players every Thursday. The activity was perfectly suited to residents’ limitations.

“A lot of the residents that participate, they will follow visual cues,” Katie Hilburn, an administrator at Silverado, said. “They can’t necessarily communicate like we are, but if they are watching [someone] do it across the table, they can follow.”

The partnership was a win-win, Hilburn said. T.C. Williams players got free sandwiches on practice days, and Silverado residents found a way to feel empowered again.

“These people have had amazing lives and careers and many of them sat on boards,” Hilburn said. “… These are people that are used to being very involved in their community and giving back and participating. When they move in here, we don’t want that to be taken away from them.”

After the program with the football team was such a hit, both with residents at Silverado and the football team, Hughes reached out to T.C. Williams’ athletic director to see how else Silverado could help. Silverado residents ended up making sandwiches for the wrestling team as well and even re- ceived a signed photo of the team as a show of gratitude.

While some businesses have the resources to donate thousands of dollars toward community efforts, the city’s smaller business owners have found creative ways to give back.

When Stacey Wharam purchased Fontaine Bistro on South Royal Street in Old Town with her husband in September 2018, she did so with more than just the intent of turning a profit.

“It’s not just about running a business and making money, and at the end of the day if I can’t give back, then I might as well go get a regular job,” Wharam said.

Since taking over Fontaine, Wharam has partnered with several local organizations to contribute food, time and service to those in need.

Fontaine is currently working with Together We Bake, an Alexandria nonprofit that provides women with training and hands-on experience in order to get them into the workforce.

Wharam uses granola made by the women in her restaurant and is working with the nonprofit to train women in job interviewing with the eventual hope of hiring some of the women in the program. The collaboration also helps Fontaine, which sees a high amount of turnover, Wharam said. However, Wharam’s efforts are primarily focused on addressing hunger in Alexandria.

“That has to be one of the most horrible feelings in the world: to be hungry, to not have access to food and then, to top it all off, you’re in this very privileged, wealthy community,” Wharam said.

Through Volunteer Alexandria, every Monday and Tuesday Fontaine donates soup and baguettes to Meade Memorial Episcopal Church. The partnership yields around 100 meals for Alexandria’s homeless and hungry every week.

Fontaine is also working to offer its customers a way to give back to the community themselves. A new program will allow customers who pay with their credit card to give additional funds to Volunteer Alexandria. Much like how most checks have a place to tip servers, Fontaine will add another section to each check where customers can add a little more to their bill in order to give back.

“That is what I’m actually really excited about: educating the customer that little things can make a big impact,” Wharam said.

According to Wharam, that money will go toward funding park cleanup efforts and a program Volunteer Alexandria runs on Saturday where children make meals for other children in need.

Wharam is also working with Volunteer Alexandria and T.C. Williams to find different ways of supporting lower income students and families.

“We’re figuring out some sort of voucher program that would allow a [student] and potentially their family to present what would look like a coupon and be able to get a certain meal for free,” Wharam said.

Wharam is still figuring out the logistics of the program, but, like many other local business owners, she looks forward to remaining an active member of the community, working with other restaurants and businesses to give back and making a difference.

“I don’t want to be a business that makes money and goes home at the end of the night,” Wharam said. “I really want to find ways that I can be impactful not only in the community but in someone else’s life.”

Businesses interested in finding volunteer and engagement opportunities with Volunteer Alexandria can visit or call 703- 836-2176.