by Katie Pohlman
Special to The Gazette
While getting a taste of Bethesda, diners will also help support wounded military members and their families during this summer’s Bethesda-Chevy Chase Restaurant Week.
The restaurant week, to be held July 29 to Aug. 4, will benefit the Yellow Ribbon Fund, a Bethesda nonprofit. It’s the first time the annual promotion is supporting a charity, said Laura Kimmel, director of membership and marketing for the Restaurant Association of Maryland. The decision was made by a committee of representatives of local restaurants, including Jaleo, Grapeseed American Bistro and Lebanese Taverna.
“The committee thought it would be a good idea,” Kimmel said. “It’s another way to tie in the local Bethesda feel.”
Mark Robbins, executive director of the Yellow Ribbon Fund, said the support is welcomed.
“We said yes immediately,” he said.
The Yellow Ribbon Fund works with families of injured service members who are recovering at Walter Reed National Military Medical Center in Bethesda and Fort Belvoir Community Hospital in Virginia. The fund offers free rental cars and taxi rides, free hotel rooms and free apartments to families. The fund partners with local businesses to provide the services, Robbins said.
The fund’s mission is to make the healing process, which can last two years, as easy as possible for military families. That includes helping them visit service members and finding places for them to stay if the families are not from the Washington, D.C., area, he said.
“Our primary function is to keep families together during difficult times,” Robbins said.
The Yellow Ribbon Fund works with the Soldier and Family Assistance Center at Walter Reed. Robbins said the center provides a list of activities and services offered by different support organizations for families to choose from.
Amy Oppelt, coordinator of the Family Caregiver Program, first used the fund’s services when her husband was staying at Walter Reed. Oppelt had a newborn and a 6-year-old child at the time and said the free housing helped her adjust to living in the area. She also utilized the free taxi rides when extended family came into town to visit her husband.
She said the fund’s staff will jump through any hoop to help families.
“They’ve been so accessible,” she said. “If they don’t provide a certain service, they will find a way to get you what you need.”
Oppelt also benefited from the Family Caregiver dinners hosted by the fund to give wives and mothers time to themselves.
“At the beginning, you’re so overwhelmed with appointments that you don’t have time for yourself,” she said.
The dinners provided a support system for Oppelt, she said, by introducing her to other wives who are going through, or have gone through, the same process she is.
“It helped me feel like, ‘Yeah, I can do this’,” she said.
Oppelt’s husband is now in the outpatient stage of recovery, but still has appointments every day at the hospital.
Jessica Allen, director of the Family Caregiver Program, also found out about the fund when her husband was injured. After being helped by the fund herself, Allen decided to give back to the program.
She said the fund takes care of every family member, not just the service member. The organization provides events for “warriors only,” “warrior and caregiver only” and for the children, whom she called the “littlest warriors.”
Kimmel said about 30 restaurants are expected to participate this summer. Restaurants can decide whether to offer a two-course lunch for either $12 or $16, a three-course dinner for $33 or both during the week.
Participating restaurants will donate 10 percent of their sales throughout the week to the Yellow Ribbon Fund.