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Ben's Chili Bowl commits to daily food donations for frontline workers

Ben's Chili Bowl, like many small businesses, is fighting to survive the coronavirus shutdown. Sales are down 80%, but they continue to serve the community.

WASHINGTON — It was hard to miss the large crowd outside Ben's Chili Bowl on U Street, given the street is now typically empty. The bustle outside of the historic institution was the staff preparing a food donation for a nearby firehouse. 

"We're here to inspire the community and inspire others," Sage Ali, co-owner of Ben's Chili Bowl, said

Just about every day, staffers prepare and donate meals to frontline workers like hospital staff, firefighters and emergency medical services.

"One of the [Howard University Hospital] doctors came down to say thank you," Vidal Ali, co-owner of Ben's Chili Bowl said. "And she appreciated it so much. It wasn't even the meal -- just the act of kindness encourages them to go on. Every dollar donated goes toward feeding healthcare workers and first responders." 

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The restaurant has been committed to community service since its inception, surviving the D.C. riots in the 1960s and other historical milestones. Even as they fight for their survival, they continue to support the community. 

"Business dropped 80% or more with the onset of COVID-19," Sage said. "We were set up to have our best year ever. Things were going very well. All of a sudden, this hit and it caught everyone off guard." 

There have been glimmers of better days ahead. Since our initial reporting, the restaurant has seen more people reach out for food and to help. Business is still tough, but it seems the community they've served is returning the favor. 

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