Helping folks during the coronavirus pandemic in San Antonio — one egg at a time

By Melissa Fletcher Stoeltje, Staff Writer

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Jennifer Aghassibake was strolling through the aisles of a local restaurant wholesale supply store when she spied shelves full of fresh eggs.

This was around the time the coronavirus had triggered widespread panic-buying, emptying grocery stores of staples. Restaurants had not yet opened pop-up markets. Curbside delivery was weeks in the offing.

Aghassibake and her husband, Richard, a smoked-meats aficionado, often shopped at the store for slabs of beef and bulk goods. Now she looked at the eggs and thought: Might people need these?

She bought 200 eggs, then asked family members, a few friends with health issues that made shopping dangerous and some elderly neighbors if they wanted any. The eggs were gone in two hours. She gave most of them away.

Then she thought: Who else might benefit?

Aghassibake is plugged into a wide and diverse online network of friends and acquaintances through her background in portrait photography and web design and her membership in a statewide medieval re-enactors group called the Society of Creative Anachronism. She decided to post on various platforms: Anybody want eggs?

Dozens of people responded. Word spread. Since then, the mother of three has morphed into the “Egg Fairy,” a playful moniker she’s earned by supplying the low-cost protein to friends, neighbors and even strangers in a delivery zone that stretches along the Interstate 35 corridor, as far as Austin.

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All told, Aghassibake has delivered more than 2,000 eggs, selling them at cost — $5 for 20 eggs, $3 for a dozen.

At a time when many San Antonians have stepped up to help those in need — making face masks, running errands for the elderly, assisting first-responders — her mission is as plain and homespun as a hard-boiled egg.

“It seemed like low-hanging fruit,” said Aghassibake, who kept her tax ID number from a former portrait studio business, enabling her to buy foods at wholesale cost at Restaurant Depot on Fredericksburg Road. “I just saw a need and filled it.”

Aghassibake buys flats containing hundreds of eggs at a time. Customers sometimes give her extra money as donations, which she plows back into the project, using their largess to provide free eggs to those on limited incomes

She leaves the ovoid treasures on people’s porches, ringing the bell then scurrying back to her red SUV to maintain social distancing. (“That’s hard for me, because I’m a hugger.”)

She’s sold them out of her trunk at Walmart parking lots. She’s sold them from her own driveway, when chronic pain from a bad back makes deliveries too hard.

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One grateful recipient of her egg beneficence is Marselles Coe, 44, an old friend from “the supernerd scene” in San Antonio who has multiple health issues, including kidney disease and congestive heart failure.

Aghassibake, who often drives him to and from his dialysis appointments, has brought him eggs more than once.

“She’s a sweetheart and — pardon the pun — a good egg,” Coe said. “She’s providing a wonderful service to people in this time of struggle.”

Michael Scofield and wife, Gayle, San Antonio retirees who’ve known Aghassibake for years through the SCA, responded to her post in the affirmative.

“Next thing we know, she’s at our house with eggs,” he said. “Two weeks later, more eggs. We love it, because we’re in our 70s and we’re supposed to stay home. They’re delicious eggs and to have them just show up is a marvelous thing. She sends us a message: ‘You’ve got eggs.’”

Scofield adds that his friend is “setting a really great example for her three daughters.”

Maggie Bribiesca lives right around the corner from Aghassibake on the North Side but didn’t know her until she saw her post on Nextdoor, an online community platform.

She has three sons at home, including a 16-year-old who needs eggs to do his online culinary class at Alamo Heights High School.

“I bought 100 eggs and split them with my mother, who gave some to a neighbor,” she said. “It’s just amazing to me that someone is so selfless as to drive all the way to Austin to bring eggs. It blows me away.”

Melissa Van Kuiken, who knows Aghassibake through a photography Facebook group, has four kids ages 8, 10, 11, 14. She was facing empty shelves until she saw the post.

Aghassibake also buys and sells 50-pound bags of flour, sugar, beans and other staples. Van Kuiken bought some of those as well.

“Especially with younger kids, they don’t understand why you can’t cook something,” she said. “Just being able to make bread together as a family has been so wonderful.”

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On a recent sweltering afternoon, with a major thunderstorm in the forecast, Aghassibake stood in the parking lot of the Restaurant Depot, splitting 600 eggs — $48 per box of 200 — into one-dozen cartons and placing them in a large cooler.

Masked and gloved, she goes about her work carefully.

“I’ve learned to pick out any broken pieces,” she said.

She keeps any damaged eggs for her own use.

She’s also purchased big bags of staples. She organizes everything in the trunk of her car, using a handwritten list, loading in first all those products that will be delivered last.

Most customers pay online, she said. Cash payments go in a “zippy bag” she keeps in the trunk for several days, to make sure any live virus has died.

On today’s delivery route: Eggs for her father and stepmother first. Then for her former eighth-grade teacher at McNair Middle School. Lastly, she’ll drive to San Marcos, to deliver 200 eggs to an equestrian training group.

Husband Richard keeps asking her when she’s going to hang up her fairy wings, she said. She’ll decide she’s done, but then someone sends her an email or Facebook message: Got any more eggs?

“My husband says I tend to be a bit extreme in the things I do,” she said. “Honestly, to me it’s just common sense. What can bring back a sense of normalcy better than a plate of scrambled eggs or a homemade cake?”

Melissa Fletcher Stoeltje is a general assignment reporter covering breaking news, cultural trends and interesting people and goings-on around San Antonio and Bexar County, as well as all across South Texas. To read more from Melissa , become a subscriber. | Twitter: @mstoeltje

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