It’s important, where we live and why. Many of Crozet’s attractions are obvious: natural beauty, moderate climate, nearby cultural centers. Others are less visible, such as the kind hearts and abiding generosity of those among us who choose to serve their fellow man. The Crozet Gazette is pleased to bring you the story of two of them, and their enablers.
Last February, an anonymous man gave Steve Easton and Jocelyn Crum a mission: to feed 200 people a full meal weekly for eight weeks in Crozet. The meals included those in need, but everyone was to be welcomed: no questions, no paperwork, no verification. Hungry people who could afford the barbecue, sides, and desserts were invited to make a donation to continue the work.
The donor chose wisely: Easton and Crum are the founders, owners and staff of Legaci Eats, a non-profit, Crozet-based family business. They serve free meals to anyone who asks, operating in all the surrounding counties as well. They’ve become well-known for their home-style meals, cooked from scratch and without a trace of any mass-produced institutional ingredients. With a network of volunteers and social services colleagues, they send meals out to Orange, Albemarle, Fluvanna and Nelson Counties, Charlottesville and the Valley, among others, 16 counties in all, Easton said.
Easton is the chef and he smokes the meat, bakes the bread, simmers the sides and puts together freshly made desserts like strawberry shortcake, lemon cake and peach cobbler. When he talks about “homemade,” he means it. If he’s up all night smoking ribs, or pork loins or turkey breasts, he’ll use the time to make dozens of loaves of bread, or put up some pickles or strawberry jam, all to be used for upcoming menus.
Crum handles logistics, coordinating the army of volunteers and public servants that’s grown up around their mom-and-pop enterprise, overseeing hundreds of far-flung deliveries and special requests. The couple guessed they’ve served more than 30,000 meals in the short life of their enterprise.
On a Saturday in late March, the team (it also includes assorted relatives and volunteers) was halfway through the Crozet assignment, which is supported through April. They’re using the Crozet Baptist Church as home base, taking advantage of the church’s well-known hospitality and well-equipped kitchen. They said they became acquainted with the church through the former youth minister, Tracy Pugh, whose family would routinely bake and box 28 dozen cookies from a grandmother’s recipe for home delivery.
By making careful use of donated food and supplies and cooking everything from scratch, Easton is able to keep costs down, so that 200 people can be fed for $1,000. “I’m not afraid to ask,” he said. “I visit local businesses and just talk about how they can help.” His persistence meets with generosity, more often than not. Brownsville Market pitches in with a hundred chicken pieces once a month or so, Mudhouse donates coffee, and other businesses include his shopping list in their larger orders to take advantage of bulk buying.
At present, no meals can be eaten on the premises, but the parking lot at Crozet Baptist has been a busy, joyful place on March Saturdays. Some people pick up meals to deliver to those who are home-bound or too embarrassed to come in person. Others come to thank them for what they’re doing and leave a donation, or to pick up a loaf of homemade bread or a jar of pickles. Volunteers congregate in the kitchen and help the meal giveaway run smoothly. There’s always more than enough, Easton said, so he encourages parents to pick up meals for the whole family.
The couple talked about why they chose this ministry. “There’s nothing like home cooking,” Easton said. “There are wonderful people distributing groceries, but we wanted to lift up people who are feeling down by giving them a warm welcome and a really good hot meal.” On Saturdays that precede the twice-monthly food pick-up at Crozet UMC, they make sure to share sliced meat and sides with the church’s Grace Grocery clients.
It’s a grueling effort, one that takes physical endurance, careful coordination, and long hard days, six days a week. Their commitment comes from their core beliefs: the “legaci” in their name comes from love, empowerment, God, acceptance, cooking and inclusion. Both have a strong faith, both understand the huge role personal energy plays in any enterprise. Steve has the cooking nailed, and it goes without saying that their mission by its nature is inclusive.
In their separate paths, understanding of love and acceptance has come at a huge personal cost. Before they joined forces, both of them learned compassion from the crushing challenges in their own lives.
Crum has a son with a genetic syndrome that means he will never talk or live independently. Although she treasures the unconditional love he has taught her, the day-to-day reality is difficult. When her husband died suddenly at a young age, the stress and grief were compounded.
Easton was homeless for a time, and endured the hopelessness of those who are unsure that life will get better. “That’s when I learned the value of a kind word, a good meal, a helping hand,” he said. “That makes all the difference.” Years ago, he lost an infant son and, more recently, went through a painful divorce.
Crum and Easton knew each other, and were familiar with the tragedies in each other’s lives because Crum and her oldest son were frequent customers in the Charlottesville restaurant where Easton worked. He ultimately left work to care for his mother when she was diagnosed with cancer.
They met for coffee at the Mudhouse and fell into the easy conversation they’d always had, commiserating about life’s ups and downs. Since then, “we’ve been inseparable,” Crum said.
She was touched by his willingness to enter her difficult world. He recognized that her reaction to adversity was the same as his: “We never take anything for granted,” the couple writes on the Legaci Eats website. “We choose joy.” They embraced each other’s children––six in all––and began a new life.
When Easton’s mother’s health improved (she now volunteers for them) and he was ready to go back to work, the pandemic hit. He and Crum decided they’d use savings to start a non-profit catering business, and a patchwork of donations and requests from established social services agencies has kept them going ever since. They were especially glad for the Crozet benefactor: “It’s our hometown,” Crum said, “and at first glance people might think it’s affluent and doesn’t need our service.” As a long-time resident, she knows different. “Poverty here is just more hidden than in some places.”
They’ve also found a number of formerly middle-class people who’ve been severely affected by the pandemic and are uncertain about future food and shelter. “There’s a lot of despair,” Easton said. “We know a good meal won’t solve all their problems. What we’re saying with our food is, ‘Hold on. Hold on for just a while longer.’”