Local residents crowd the entrance of Janae Coleman's new restaurant during her food giveaway for COVID-19 relief.
Local residents crowd the entrance of Janae Coleman's new restaurant during her food giveaway for COVID-19 relief.

Janae Coleman, a District resident and recipient of the Department of Small and Local Business Development (DSLBD) 2019 Dream Grant, hosts community food giveaways for Ward 7 residents at the doors of Coleman’s Kitchen, her soon-to-open carryout establishment.

Previously set to open prior to the coronavirus pandemic, Coleman’s Kitchen is the first female- and minority-owned carryout of its kind east of the Anacostia River, and arguably throughout the District.

Coleman held a community food giveaway aimed to feed 400 people in Ward 7 as a helping hand to neighboring food banks wiped out by the pandemic.

“We had more people than I could count. We didn’t hit the 400 goal, but we were close to it,” Coleman said.

The brick-and-mortar carryout spawned from Coleman’s small catering business, serving paying clientele, along with neighborhood residents in need.

The Capital Area Food Bank recently reported the potential of nearly a quarter-million people in the Washington area at high risk of hunger amid the pandemic.

Due to food pantry building closures, coupled with the mass reduction of volunteer workers, the pandemic has blunted the District’s ability to service the rising demand of hungry families in need.

On Saturday, July 18, Coleman’s Kitchen held its first summer food giveaway at its Mississippi Avenue location, handing out ice cream, hot dogs, burgers and various side items.

“I can’t even explain to people how good I felt handing out food,” Coleman said. “It’s not up to us to judge how people have gotten in the streets. People lose their homes, their cars, their marriages. We don’t know, and it’s not our place to judge them, it’s our place to help.”

Coleman’s soul food carryout menu, comprising a plethora of community favorites, highlights the unique feature of “Grandma’s Plate,” offering affordable, quality food in dollar-menu proportions to those customers in severe need prior to and because of the current health emergency.

The dollar-priced options became an instant selling point in Coleman’s Dream grant package, enamoring DSLBD advisers while simultaneously honoring her with the available funding of up to $10,000 per recipient.

Attributing her creation of “Grandma’s Plate” to a personal journey of hardship, Coleman recalls her fast financial downfall after losing a six-figure job in 2017.

“One day I was able to sit in the fanciest of restaurants, treating 20 or 30 people, and the next day I was unemployed and could barely find change around the house,” she said. “There’s no way that I can open up and forget these people in similar circumstances that are sitting right outside of my door.”

Coleman’s Dream Grant funding provides economic support to business operation needs, as she additionally scored her restaurant building space by way of Dr. Margaret Labat, a former D.C. Public Schools administrator who believed in Colman’s service in helping the Ward 7 community.

Coleman is currently convening with local chefs to facilitate a breakfast giveaway during the holiday season of 2020, a twist from the usual turkey dinners available at most holiday food giveaways.

Coleman’s Kitchen now holds a tentative opening date of spring 2021, with additional food events preceding the date.

WI Guest Author

This correspondent is a guest contributor to The Washington Informer.

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