Hope can come in many forms: A thick envelope from a college. A line on a pregnancy test. A set of keys to a new home.

On a recent Sunday, it looked like this: Two brown paper bags.

Fabian Lagos hands them to me as I stand on the sidewalk outside the Northern Virginia townhouse he shares with his wife, Lissette.

“I hope you like them,” Lissette says through a mask as I hand her $28. I can’t see her mouth, but her eyes are smiling. “Please be honest. Let us know if there is anything we can improve.”

Inside the bags, tucked in beds of foam and foil, are seven empanadas made from the recipes Fabian grew up watching his grandmother prepare in a rural part of Chile. One is filled with shrimp and cheese, another with shredded chicken and a third with a mixture of beef, olives and a hard-boiled egg.

Type “Chilean empanadas” and “D.C. area” into Google, and you won’t find many places where you can buy them. You definitely won’t see a listing for the ones the Lagos family makes. To find those, you have to have heard about them from someone who heard about them or who knows Fabian and Lissette.

That’s because the couple never expected to be selling them — and they definitely didn’t expect to be selling nearly 300 on a recent weekend.

The coronavirus pandemic has pushed tens of millions of people across the country out of jobs that kept their lives comfortable, or at least manageable. Jobs that allowed for budgeting and planning and even splurging. Jobs that brought stress, but also stability and predictability.

Strip that away, and it changes people. The Great Recession showed us that. It showed us middle-class families struggling to see themselves as homeless and people with nice cars embarrassed to be standing in line for free food.

But it also showed us something else — people who reinvented themselves. People who, when broken down, rebuilt themselves into something completely different.

During the recession in 2009, Post photographer Michael S. Williamson and I spent four months traveling across the country, taking back roads and sleeping in cheap hotels, to document how people were adjusting. We found the predictable and the surprising. We found people sleeping in borrowed spaces and men squeezing into spandex.

In a West Virginia town that saw its largest employer, a Volvo plant, forced to lay off 2,400 people, two-thirds of its workforce, we discovered a wrestling camp that was bustling with newly jobless and optimistic men. One of them had spent nine years helping to build 18-wheelers before losing his job. Of him, I wrote, “He figured that if the real world no longer had a leash on him, why not run wildly toward what he’d always enjoyed?”

“In reality, the economy tanking really turned my whole life around,” he told us at the time. “It cost me some things, but it’s given me more.”

In quiet, easy-to-miss ways around us, that is happening again. The newly jobless are undoubtedly hurting right now as bills and stress mount, but some are also hitting depths that are forcing them to reevaluate their skills, talents and hopes.

To see that, we just have to look closer at those empanadas.

Before the pandemic, Fabian Lagos was working as a carpenter, installing staircases inside homes. Then came the virus and the call for social distancing, and not surprisingly, people no longer wanted work crews in their houses.

One week passed without him working.

Then two.

Then four.

“My husband started to worry, and so did I because it was one week after another,” recalls Lissette, who works for a title company. “After the fourth week, we were really struggling to make ends meet with one salary.”

She also noticed that her husband seemed to be slipping “somewhere else spiritually.”

“I started seeing him look really down,” she says. They had been active volunteers with their church, but during some Zoom meetings, she noticed he remained quieter than normal. “I just kept reinforcing, ‘Don’t worry, it’s fine with me, and I know if it was vice versa, you’d be there for me.’ ”

Fabian enjoyed baking bread for the family and had taken some culinary classes in Chile, but he viewed cooking as a side interest.

Then one day Lissette came home from work and found that he made a batch of empanadas for dinner. Her family is also Chilean, but she has spent most of her life in the Washington region. Her family moved here in 1980 because her grandfather was a diplomat with the Chilean embassy.

“I remember saying, ‘Oh my God, these are amazing,’ ” she recalls of her husband’s empanadas. “He said, ‘Are they really that good?’ ”

They made some for relatives and members of their church, and soon people were encouraging them to sell them.

The first weekend they did, they sold about 40. The next weekend, they sold about 80.

Now, they stop taking orders when the demand hits about 300. (They space out pickup times to keep their customers and themselves safe. Lissette says she has high blood pressure, so has been especially diligent about taking precautions.)

She describes the demand for the empanadas as “unexpected” and “inspiring.”

“We’re exhausted, but we’re happy,” she says. “We’re like, ‘Wow, can you believe this? Is this real?’ ”

On those rare weekends when they have taken a break from selling, she says, her phone fills with texts from people asking when they will be available again.

Her sister, who is now helping make them, has also spread the word at her church and posted about them on her private Instagram page. A recent post tells people that orders are already being taken for June 6.

“The seafood empanadas were ‘everything,’ ” one person wrote about the ones that contain shrimp, mussels and clams.

“I’ve been to Chile and these empanadas take me right back, they’re so good!!” wrote another person.

When I meet Lissette and Fabian, I tell them that I spent seven months studying in Chile in college and remember well the savory empanadas that were so different from the sweet ones I grew up eating in Texas. I also let them know that I am not a food critic, so my opinion of their empanadas doesn’t matter. (In case you’re wondering, though, those seven empanadas did not last long on my family’s dinner table, and I might have sent an email the next day about them containing the word “amazing” followed by an exclamation point).

Soon, you might be able to judge for yourself if you like the texture of the dough or the flavors of the fillings. Because in the last month, the empanadas have become more than just a way to pay bills for the couple.

They’ve become a source of hope for them.

Hope that they will soon be able to save up enough money to get a food truck.

Hope that the food truck will do well enough that they will eventually be able to open a restaurant.

Hope that when people pass under that restaurant’s sign years from now, they will see a name that speaks to how the couple worked together to create something good out of this awful time.

Right now, they are leaning toward registering a name that is a combination of theirs — FabiLissias Empanadas.

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