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At D.C. ice cream shop, a chain of giving so everyone can get a scoop

Customers saw the owner at Everyday Sundae giving free cones to people who couldn’t pay, so they started handing him extra cash to cover strangers’ ice cream

Charles Foreman inside his ice cream shop Everyday Sundae in the Petworth neighborhood in May 2022. (Craig Hudson for The Washington Post)
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At Charles Foreman’s D.C. ice cream shop, nobody walks away without a scoop, even if they can’t pay for it.

“You can see a need; nobody has to tell you somebody is struggling,” said Foreman, who opened Everyday Sundae in July 2021, after he was laid off as a corporate chef during the pandemic. “I feel like I have my finger on the pulse of the things that happen in the neighborhood.”

As a Petworth resident for more than two decades, Foreman, 53, was determined to “do something for the community,” where gun violence has been a troubling problem.

“Specifically on that block, there has been more than our share of situations,” he said, referring to crime. “People can’t do good unless they see good.”

He has tried to make his shop a bright spot on Kennedy Street.

“You have to start somewhere,” he said.

Whenever Foreman comes across a customer who could use a pick-me-up, he said, he happily offers them a sweet treat — on the house, no questions asked.

Last May, one regular customer caught him doing just that. She watched as Foreman served up a free scoop to a child who didn’t have money. The following week, the customer showed up with an envelope containing $100 — enough to buy about 28 scoops.

“He’s doing something tangible to improve the situation,” said Nicole, who spoke on the condition that only her first name be used to protect her privacy.

This restaurant is run by grandmothers. Customers clap for them each night.

On Fridays, especially in warmer months, Nicole typically takes her two children, ages 9 and 11, to Everyday Sundae after school for a cone.

“Mr. Charles is so great, and the ice cream is excellent, too,” she said, adding that the shop has been a “really good change agent” in the neighborhood.

Foreman was touched by his customer’s kind gesture and decided to share it on social media.

“I don’t think you can really explain how good it feels when somebody comes in and does something for somebody else,” Foreman said. “How often do you see that?”

Soon, a spontaneous chain of giving began to form. Not long after he shared the story, “someone else came in and gave a donation, and it kind of took off organically.”

“When you see people doing their best, you want to do your best,” said Foreman, who has two sons, ages 16 and 24. “Everything is contagious, whether you do something negative or positive.”

Since Nicole’s initial donation, several others have contributed to the ice cream fund. While some have given $100 gifts, others have simply asked to buy the next two scoops in line — which once triggered a day-long sequence of people doing the same, he said.

“Everybody kept paying it forward,” Foreman said. “You start to see the best in people. It was really touching.”

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In total, people have donated hundreds of cones, and Foreman ensures all contributions go directly to people in the neighborhood who might not be able to afford a scoop. He regularly gives free cones to kids, he said, but he has also handed them out to adults and seniors who might be going through a hard time.

“That’s just part of being in the community,” Foreman said. “We’re supposed to do all we can to help each other.”

Everyday Sundae serves up generously sized scoops for $3.50, and offers a rotation of 50 flavors, including cappuccino crunch, dark-chocolate hazelnut fudge, cake batter and other fan favorites, like oatmeal cookie and strawberry cheesecake.

Even though the shop has only been open a short time, Foreman said his customers feel like family.

“These things build strength between all of us," he said.

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In addition to the impromptu ice cream fund, Foreman has hosted various other initiatives, including free movie nights and storybook readings for kids, as well as clothing drives.

“We’re just getting started,” he said.

“The little things that you do are the ripple effect on the pond,” Foreman added. "It matters.”