At a time when local businesses are facing economic hardship due to COVID-19, one downtown Fredericksburg restaurant’s decision to help others has grown into a community effort.

Maria Martin, who owns Juan More Taco at 826 Caroline St., has been providing lunches for free to the elderly and front-line workers at area hospitals for nearly a month. Inspired by her acts of kindness, other businesses are pitching in with offers of food, donations and help with deliveries.

“I’m very proud of what we’re doing,” she said. “I can see it in my workers’ faces. They feel proud. We get thank-you cards almost every day. It just feels really good. It feels good to make a difference.”

Martin began what she now calls “the program” after Juan More Taco, like many other restaurants across the state, switched to offering only carryout and delivery in order to comply with new regulations meant to stem the COVID-19 outbreak.

“It was a spur-of-the-moment thing when we had to slow down with production here, and just not knowing what was coming,” she said. “Why not feed the elderly? Everybody was doing things for the kids.”

She posted an offer on Juan More Taco’s Facebook page March 17, and figured she had enough food and supplies to provide a few people with a free lunch for two weeks. The first day she got 14 responses, and made the deliveries herself.

The next day she received a message from the emergency room staff at Mary Washington Hospital and then from the Mary Washington Healthcare Outpatient Services Center at Lee’s Hill. They said they’d like some free tacos, too.

Juan More Taco’s “program” now delivers free lunch to nearly 40 elderly residents, along with dozens of hospital staff at all three Fredericksburg-area hospitals and two standalone hospital facilities. Fredericksburg Cupcakes, Italian Station and Orofino, which are also located downtown, are contributing some of the food, as are a couple of local Girl Scout troops. They’ve dropped off dozens of boxes of Girl Scout cookies.

Riverby Books, which is down the street from Juan More Taco, gave Martin some books to include with deliveries, and other people are donating as well. A Spotsylvania County transportation company, Angel Rides, even got involved. It offered to make deliveries.

Martin now begins her day at 6 a.m. by scheduling deliveries, which are packaged and out the door by 11:30 a.m. She and her volunteers don masks and gloves to drop off lunches, and she’s lining up some volunteers to sew masks for her elderly recipients.

“I don’t mind paying for the materials,” she said. “I want them to be safe.”

Donations, including one for $1,000 plus a $150 tip, are helping to keep the program running. Most of the costs, however, are covered by the income from carryout and delivery orders from Juan More Taco’s regular customers. That’s kept the restaurant busy, and she hasn’t had to lay anyone off.

“I think people are trying to support us,” she said, “because they know what we’re doing.”

Cathy Jett: 540/374-5407

cjett@freelancestar.com

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