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Girl’s ‘Gumbo for Good’ effort fights hunger

Neil Darling (center) adds olive oil to his sauteed vegetables as he prepares his gumbo. Holy Cross Academy fifth-grader Ruby Darling decided to raise money for the food bank, using her father’s love of gumbo. (Photos by Reza A. Marvashti/The Free Lance-Star)

Neil Darling is something of a gumbo guru. He hosts an annual competition, where he snagged a plastic gold trophy last year.

“And he shows it off a little bit too much,” said his 10-year-old daughter, Ruby.

Ruby Darling helps Teresa Vice, right, with her chopping duties.

So the Holy Cross Academy fifth-grader decided to use her dad’s passion for the saucy delicacy to feed others.

This fall, Ruby wanted to hold a lemonade stand and raise money for charity. But the temperatures were dropping and she wasn’t sure people would shell out money for the tart refreshment that is a summer icon.

She and her dad were heading to a travel soccer game and they traded ideas when Ruby asked, “What about gumbo?”

Neil enthusiastically agreed to make the gumbo for the fundraiser. Ruby took her dad’s iPad and searched for local charities.

She found the Fredericksburg Area Food Bank and decided that an agency fighting hunger would be the perfect fit for a gumbo-based fundraiser.

She called the effort Gumbo for Good and recruited her classmates to spread the word.

Neil’s business, EtherSpeak, sponsored the fundraiser so all proceeds could go to the food bank.

Neil and Ruby sold the gumbo for $15 per 8-ounce serving and $50 for a quart-sized serving.

“I was worried about how high the prices are,” Ruby said. “But my dad said we are going to use good-quality stuff: crab, sausage and really big shrimp.”

Neil carefully sourced the ingredients—getting the produce from Giant, the shrimp from Washington, the andouille sausage from a local producer in Catlett and the rice shipped straight from New Orleans.

The Darlings’ efforts raised $2,280 for the food bank, money that will help as the hunger-fighting agency gears up for the holidays.

That total represents 11 gallons of gumbo—and days of cooking. But Neil doesn’t mind; he considers it a labor of love.

“Gumbo is special; it tastes so good, and it leaves a lasting memory,” he said. “It is fun to make but it is time-consuming and can be expensive. So when you do make it, it is usually because it is cold out and you want to warm up a group of people and leave them with a taste they will recall for years to come.”


Neil and Ruby Darling teamed up to feed the hungry—and so will the marching bands of Stafford County high schools.

Students in the marching bands will hold the annual event BANDing Together to Fight Hunger on Nov. 11 at 7 p.m. on the field of Mountain View High School.

The United States Marine Drum and Bugle Corps will also perform at the event.

Gates will open at 5:30 p.m. Nonperishable food and financial donations will be accepted that evening. All donations will go to the Fredericksburg Area Food Bank.

Mountain View High School is at 2135 Mountain View Road in Stafford.

Amy Flowers Umble: 540/735-1973