Letter: Nic Van Dongen, Leesburg

Editor: I’m writing to express my family’s heartfelt thanks and gratitude to Chef Ingrid Gustavson, who deserves recognition for her altruistic acts of compassion for others throughout the course of this pandemic.  

Like most families, we experienced worry and turmoil in early March with parents and children scattered abroad and here in the states. We had just returned from a vacation overseas, our four children were either studying at their respective colleges or enjoying their local academic lives, and aside from competing messaging about the severity of the coronavirus, our family went about our days smartly washing hands and adjusting to working from home. In addition to our day jobs, which fortunately have not been impacted, my spouse worked periodically for the past several years at Lightfoot, an established landmark restaurant in the heart of Leesburg.

Life changed rapidly in mid-March; Our college kids were forced to come home and our high school and grade school kids began their online learning adventures. Swim classes, tutoring, gymnastics, and my morning Ida Lee exercise routines were abruptly canceled. Life with six family members working from our home, a dog and two cats became stressful for all to say the least.

It wasn’t long before my spouse learned that Lightfoot would cease in-room dining. I can’t imagine what the Lightfoot employees experienced at the time. What did the future hold? How would they feed their families and make ends meet without their jobs? That’s when Chef Ingrid displayed benevolence and kindness not often found in these trying times.

Almost without fail, Chef Ingrid prepared hot, wonderful meals for all of her employees daily. She would carefully box her creations, which included salad, a main course, bread and a desert. She enlisted a manager to coordinate pickups with her employees and made sure she and all who accepted her food did so in a safe and responsible manner by enforcing social distancing at the back door of the restaurant.  Ingrid continues to do so to this day. Her efforts are a Godsend for us and for the many families who experienced exponentially greater need than ours. 

Selflessly, Ingrid accepts nothing in return and does not seek accolade or reimbursement in any form. The enormity of her gifts to our family and to families of her employees can never be repaid. For me, feeding a family of six each night after juggling work, life, and a distracted second grader with school work to complete would have been daunting. We’ve incorporated Ingrid into our nightly dinner prayers. We think of her often and accept Ingrid’s gifts for what they represent: the kindness and caring of a small business owner and chef who is passionate about her art and cares deeply about those who have helped her prepare and serve her artful cuisine at Lightfoot. We’re here for her when Leesburg eventually opens up. And although this story can perhaps be told many times by other businesses, restaurants and families, Chef Ingrid’s generosity is beacon and a blessing. 

Nic Van Dongen, Leesburg 

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