The Wakefield Weekly Christmas Lights Tour - TJ drops admissions test, adopts “holistic review” -  McLaughlin, School Board vote to extend Brabrand’s contract

Truro residents donate nearly 1.5 tons of food - An interview with Bridget Snydstrup of Food for Others - Park Authority gauges interest in pickleball

Welcome to Wakefield Weekly! It’s our last edition of the year—and what a year it’s been. We launched the newsletter in April as a way to feel more connected to our community amid the pandemic. At the time, we couldn’t have imagined we’d still be in lockdown mode eight months later. But we have a lot to be thankful for this holiday season—including the unprecedented speed of vaccine development that could allow us to return to normal in the New Year. We hope that Wakefield Weekly has brought a little joy and connection into your life during a difficult time—and we look forward to announcing some expansion plans in the next few months. We’ll be back to regular weekly publication starting Jan. 11. Until then, keep the news, tips, and more coming to 

Big thanks to our sponsor, Realtor Jennifer Mack, whose column today offers tips for keeping your home warm and cozy over the holidays. Jennifer loves answering reader questions—you can reach her about all things real estate at

The Wakefield Weekly Christmas Lights Tour: We’re thrilled to debut what we hope will become an annual tradition—the Wakefield Weekly Christmas Lights Tour. Our family had a great time driving around admiring some of the most decked-out houses in the area—with Leanne holding her iPhone out the window to capture the adventure:

For anyone planning their own lights tour, the “Holly’s Tacky Christmas Lights” website is a great resource.


McLaughlin, School Board vote to extend Brabrand’s contract: The School Board voted unanimously last week to extend Superintendent Scott Brabrand’s contract by one year, through the 2021-2022 school year, at an annual salary of $311,526. We reached out for comment to Braddock District School Board Member Megan McLaughlin, who’s had a contentious relationship with Brabrand as the most vocal voice on the board pushing for a faster return to in-person instruction. In July, she accused him of a “breach of trust” for what she described as a failure to communicate effectively with the board when he reversed plans to offer in-person instruction for students who had selected that option.

In an email to Wakefield Weekly this weekend, McLaughlin acknowledged her past disagreements with Brabrand but expressed appreciation for his efforts to navigate FCPS through such a difficult time. “While I may not agree at times with his decision-making, I humbly respect his earnest desire to serve our employees, students, and families, and look forward to working collaboratively with him through June 30th, 2022,” she said.

Here’s the rest of McLaughlin’s statement explaining her “yes” vote:

One of the most important responsibilities of any school board is providing direct oversight of the Division Superintendent. At times, this can be challenging due to the unique perspectives held by our 12 board members. However, finding common ground and reaching consensus is remarkably beneficial for our school system and community. It is with this shared mindset that the Board commenced its careful deliberation of Superintendent Brabrand’s leadership status, as his original four-year contract was set to end on June 30th, 2021. 

With unanimous support, the Board voted on December 17th to add an additional year to Dr. Brabrand’s existing contract. I believe this will enable FCPS to have an important continuity of leadership as we emerge from the current pandemic and commence with a new Superintendent search. In addition, it will allow for a more seamless transition for the numerous leadership team members recently hired by him.

TJ drops admissions test, adopts “holistic review:” The Thomas Jefferson High School for Science and Technology, the region’s most prestigious magnet school, will drop its admissions test and adopt a “holistic review” process designed to boost diversity. After months of debate, the School Board voted last week to approve the plan, which will take effect for TJ’s class of 2025. Here’s how the board described the new process in a press release:

A holistic review will be done of students whose applications demonstrate enhanced merit; 550 seats will then be offered to the highest-evaluated students. The top 1.5 percent of the eighth grade class at each public middle school meeting the minimum standards will be eligible for admission. Students will be evaluated on their grade point average (GPA); a portrait sheet where they will be asked to demonstrate Portrait of a Graduate attributes and 21st century skills; a problem-solving essay; and experience factors, including students who are economically disadvantaged, English language learners, special education students, or students who are currently attending underrepresented middle schools. 

Giving Back

Truro residents donate nearly 1.5 tons of food: Residents donated 2,827 pounds of food through this year’s Truro Food Drive, along with $775 in grocery store gift cards, according to Truro Homes Association President Kevin Brandt. The effort was supported by the Burke Lions Club and dozens of volunteers who distributed flyers and collected the donations. The food and gift cards went to four organizations: St. Matthew’s United Methodist Church, the Annandale and Woodson High School food pantries, and Food for Others.

Here’s a photo, courtesy of Brandt:

Food for Others sees double its pre-Covid demand: Across the country, people are suffering this holiday season because of the economic impacts of the pandemic. That’s no different here in Northern Virginia, where demand for emergency food has doubled since March, according to Bridget Snydstrup, communications coordinator for Food for Others, which collects and distributes food throughout the region. We reached out to Snydstrup to get a sense of how the pandemic has affected her organization—and how best to help.

The conversation is below, edited for length and clarity.

Q: Hi, Bridget. What has the pandemic been like for Food For Others?

Right now we're feeding about 4,000 families a week, which is a lot more than before the pandemic. Back in March, right when the schools closed and workplaces were closing, we had a huge increase in the number of people coming to Food for Others to pick up food. The number at that time quadrupled. From our warehouse, before the pandemic, we were serving about 60 families a day, and then, in March, that number jumped to over 200. At the same time, we were getting fewer donations from grocery stores because people were stocking up on food. The shelves were empty. The things the grocery stores would normally donate to the food bank had been purchased. We ended up having to purchase a lot more food than usual to make up for these lost donations.

Q: How have things changed since March?

We do have volunteers back in our warehouse, and we get donations from grocery stores again, and people are hosting food drives. But we are still serving 4,000 families every week, which is about double what we were serving before the pandemic.

Q: What steps have you taken to keep up with the increase?

Initially we hired temporary staff members. We had a permanent staff of 10, and we hired seven temporary staff members to help us work in the warehouse making boxes and distributing food. We have expanded a couple of our programs. We’ve added seven new organizations to our Community Partners program, which is where we pack bulk foods to distribute to other community organizations like youth shelters or faith-based organizations that have smaller food pantries. We also added eight mobile sites. These are where we pack boxes of food and then drive them in one of our trucks to an area where people are in need. It's easier for them to access, it's closer to where they live, and it's in the evening, which is better for those who work during the day.

Q: How does someone qualify for assistance?

To pick up emergency food at our warehouse, they have to have a referral from a doctor or a social worker or Fairfax County—some kind of social service organization—saying the family or this individual is in need of food. They get a box that’s designed to be everything a family would need to last two to five days. The other way people can pick up food at the warehouse is if they qualify by income. This program is through the USDA—they have to meet the USDA’s requirements for low income.

Q: Is there still significant unmet need in our community?

Yes. That's one of the reasons we're adding mobile sites and working with community partners, because we know there are people out there who aren't accessing our services but still need them. We're always looking for more ways to let people know about Food for Others, to reach more people. More than half the clients we've served since March have been new.

Q: What’s the best way someone can help?

Monetary donations and food donations are both extremely helpful. Those are the biggest and easiest ways people can support us. We need both. Our most needed food items are listed on our website. One thing that's important about Food for Others is we can take perishable foods. When people think of food banks, they think of canned goods, but we can take fresh food, fresh produce, milk, eggs, frozen meat. Basically, we tell people if they're looking to donate food, they can always donate food that they would eat themselves.

Also, we do have limited spots available to volunteer in our warehouse. About 10 people can come in a day. We're all set up for socially distanced volunteering. We have a big warehouse, about 16,000 square feet. Everyone wears masks, and we take their temperatures when they arrive. When the volunteers are working, they're either sorting donations or making boxes or bagging up food. They have plenty of space between them.

The other thing people can do if they want to help is spread the word about our services and about hunger in Northern Virginia, because I think a lot of people underestimate the need in Fairfax County because it's known for being such a wealthy area. The ways they can do that are subscribe to our newsletter, share our website, and they can follow us on social media—Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Linkedin.

News in Brief

  • Covid-19 vaccines have begun rolling out in Fairfax County, with the first doses going to healthcare workers and residents in long-term care facilities.

  • Environmentalists are raising concerns about the impact of the dredging of Lake Accotink because a section of Wakefield Park will have to be cleared, according to the Annandale Blog. Planning for the project is now underway, with construction slated for 2023.

  • Dixon Joel Martinez Rodriguez, 27, of Falls Church, died the morning of Sunday, Dec. 13, in a car crash at the intersection of Little River Turnpike and Duncan Drive. The Fairfax County Police Department has preliminarily determined that Rodriguez “was the lone occupant and driver of a 2009 Chevy Impala traveling east on Little River Turnpike when the car left the roadway and hit a tree.”

  • The Fairfax County Park Authority is seeking input from the public as part of a “pickleball feasibility study,” launched in response to “numerous requests” for more pickleball courts at county parks and RECenters.

Real Estate

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Jennifer Mack column: How to make your home warm and cozy this winter

With the first "snowstorm" of the season behind us, many of us are starting to hunker down for the winter. For my last column of the year, I would like to offer some ideas for making your home cozy and comfortable. Sometimes small changes can make a big difference—and in these uncertain times we can use all the comfort we can get.

  1. Treat yourself to a scented candle. With candles, I always say you get what you pay for, so it’s worth spending a little more for quality. My current favorite is Holiday Lights by Yankee Candle. If you don't like candles, boil some water with a few cinnamon sticks, then turn down the heat and enjoy the warm, spiced scent throughout your house.

  2. Explore the different holiday music channels on Pandora or through your Alexa. Get out of your regular music rut with fun channels. SiriusXM has 17 channels all dedicated to Christmas music! My favorites are Holiday Soul and Holiday Chill Out.  

  3. Get some new throws and pillows for your favorite place to sit. I love a fleece throw with an extra fuzzy side. There are even family-size blankets available now for some really good couch cuddle time!

  4. Embrace accent lighting. Look around the rooms you spend the most time in and assess your lighting. There are probably some rooms with only overhead lighting. Small accent lamps at Home Goods or Marshalls will add a softer glow to your room. String lights across your mantle or archway will create a festive ambience.

  5. Incorporate wood accents and something organic in every room. Anything from a new house plant to a bowl of lemons will breathe some life into your space.

From my family to yours, I wish you happy holidays and a prosperous New Year!

Jennifer Mack has more than 15 years of experience in the real estate industry. Her team services Virginia, Maryland, and D.C., with the bulk of her business in the Woodson High School area. You can contact her with real estate questions at or by calling 703-672-0038. She’s happy to answer specific questions privately or more general questions publicly in this column.

On the market

8516 Forest St | $650,000
3 beds, 2 baths, 1,986 sf
Listed by Jason Piccolo | Weichert, REALTORS

5002 Wakefield Chapel Rd | $650,000
5 beds, 3 baths, 2,464 sf
Listed by Chris Colgan | Keller Williams Realty/Lee Beaver & Assoc. 

4104 Guinea Rd | $700,000
4 beds, 1.5 baths, 1,721 sf
Listed by Renee Greenwell | Keller Williams Realty 

8903 Footstep Ct | $839,900
4 beds, 3 baths, 2,144 sf
Listed by Paul B. Greenfield | Redfin Corporation 

4104 Accotink Pkwy | $849,900
3 beds, 4.5 baths, 3,216 sf
Listed by Leela Singh | Keller Williams Fairfax Gateway 

4309 Holly Ln | $499,000
0.9 acres
Listed by Jonathan Kennedy | McEnearney Associates, Inc. 

Recently sold

8409 Stone Gate Dr | $755,000
4 beds, 2.5 baths, 2,095 sf
Listed by Jana Gilbert & Kay Graff | Weichert, REALTORS
Bought with Paul Basto | Compass