José Andrés and his World Central Kitchen, Bon Jovi and his restaurant JBJ Soul Kitchen, and Vienna’s own ultra-altruist, Lydia Russo and her Vienna VA Foodies. What do they all have in common? They are out on the front lines making a difference in the lives of others, feeding those in need—one meal at a time.
Almost two years ago, Vienna resident Lydia Russo created a Facebook group with her local friend Chris Drinkuth. Their main mission was to feature local Vienna restaurants and shine a spotlight on Vienna’s growing culinary scene.
During the pandemic, the Vienna VA Foodies grew into something much larger – a support system for restaurants during the toughest times. The community rushed to come together and keep the local restaurant scene afloat. So many kind souls, such as RusticLoveVienna.com, joined in on the movement. All proceeds from sale of the Rustic Love wooden heart signs, T-shirts, sweatshirts, blankets, and magnets went to the food deliveries organized by Lydia.
The impact became so great, Lydia is currently in the works of establishing the One Neighborhood Foundation to focus entirely on the food deliveries. She knows this could have not been accomplished by all the kind citizens who stood up and played a part with their goodwill.
Lydia says it best. “Vienna VA Foodies has become one of the most magical groups. For the past ten months, we have helped local businesses by sending meals to frontline/first responders, essential workers, and food-insecure families. The entire community has pitched in and played a part, teachers, counselors, business owners, community members—even my dear colleagues.”
Recently I watched Lester Holt’s compelling report on the food-insecure people in our nation, so many for the first time, and was reminded that I had seen this firsthand before, albeit not at this scale, in the schools where I taught in Fairfax County—especially at a Title 1 school where many of my students got free lunch. Some got breakfast too. Lydia and the Vienna Foodies are well aware and there to lend a hand wherever they can.
“This week alone we surprised over a dozen groups—some of which consist of Capitol police officers, National Guard, firefighters, teachers, and restaurant workers. Such moving, inspiring, heartwarming work. I am left speechless each day. It truly is a beautiful day in the neighborhood. I love Vienna, VA with my whole heart.”
Lydia and her tireless Vienna Foodies recently sent a lot of love from Church Street to DC. Local Vienna restaurants reached out to Lydia to help feed the National Guard during the inauguration. Lydia commented, “When I asked them if they minded if I grouped them together, they said, ‘Do it! We love our neighbors and we’ll go together.’”
These National Guard members are pulled from their everyday lives to serve, so the Vienna Foodies sent treats throughout the week to show their appreciation, including 100 pasties from The Pure Pasty Co., 100 sandwiches from The Sandwich Shop, 100 salads from Bazin’s On Church, 300 freshly baked cookies from Best Buns Tysons, 100 Skorpios Maggio’s family restaurant meals, 100 Side Street & Sushi Bar by I-Thai meals, Patriotic Cookies made by Vienna baker Sarah Marshall, and Lollipop bouquets made by Lauren McCabe, and dessert by Lucy Q’s. Two Vienna Foodies, Barbara Hamill and Sarah Pollinger, even stepped up to fund and send 200 Rustic Love Vienna masks (special edition gray) as a friendly reminder that Vienna appreciates their heroic service.
Great minds think alike. Great hearts beat alike. Nicola Willis-Jones, chef at The Pure Pasty, noted, “Today we (Pure Pasty) made and sent hot pasties into DC to help keep the National Guard fed and happy. Lydia Russo from Vienna Foodies, who has a heart of gold, has been coordinating food deliveries from restaurants in our area and we were happy to assist. Here to warm your toes, hands, bellies, and hearts.”
It’s not surprising what Lydia decided to do for her birthday. She posted on Facebook, “Donating blood on my birthday! INOVA is in need of blood! Please consider giving! You can save lives.” That following week, with the help of the Vienna Foodies,
INOVA was able to successfully book two entire days of blood appointments.
From the time Lydia was a little girl, she was taught to always give back. She has had many great mentors along the way. The beloved former Mayor of Vienna, M. Jane Seeman, dear Vera Lloyd, a volunteer for over 50 years at the Vienna Volunteer Fire Department, and countless teachers made sure Lydia understood—there is nothing more important than to give.
In addition to these noteworthy recent accomplishments, in February Lydia married Vicente Parra (who she met at a local restaurant!) in a small, intimate ceremony, and the giving community she inspires was there to cheer her on virtually in the weeks prior in true Vienna spirit. Although the wedding was scaled back, Lydia felt the love of her dear neighbors who had become family to her over the past ten months.
Lydia Russo is much more than a self-described hypegirl. Her work with the energetic and enthusiastic Vienna VA Foodies has been deservedly recognized, as she was selected as one of Harris’ Heroes on Channel 4, who said she turned it into “a force for good.” She was also awarded the first annual Corporate Social Responsibility Award by the Vienna Business Association.
Delegate Mark Keam from Vienna expressed his appreciation. “Lydia, it’s been a tough year, but you certainly put a lot of smiles on my face with all of your wonderful kindness and selfless efforts to support those who are struggling the most in our community. Thank you!”
To join the movement of kindness and share photos from your visits to Vienna restaurants, be sure to join the “Vienna VA Foodies” Facebook group, or follow Vienna VA foodies on Instagram: @viennavafoodies
It is humbling to see so many amazing people stepping up to try to help in any way they can. One of my favorite lines from Mr. Rogers is in times of trouble to look for the helpers. And Lydia Russo is one of the biggest helpers of all. There are indeed angels in our midst.