Patrons say Sweet Things about Ben & Jerry’s on “Free Cone Day”

Sangita Sigdyal usually stays put at the job during lunch. But when she got an email from a colleague yesterday morning about free ice cream at Ben & Jerry’s, she couldn’t help but break her routine.

Like Sigdyal, hundreds of ice cream lovers stopped by Washington’s Union Station yesterday to indulge in Ben & Jerry’s 29th annual, worldwide “Free Cone Day.”

From noon to 8 p.m., the ice cream chain offered cold, complementary scoops in all flavors, from Phish Food to Turtle Soup, while promoting various non-profit organizations at each location. The Union Station stand supported Northern Virginia Coalition, as representatives took donations.

“I think people feel that if they’re getting something for free, why not give to a good cause at the same time,” said Amanda Cardone, project manager for the coalition whose members help provide housing, childcare, education, counseling, and mentoring to homeless victims of domestic abuse.

About two hours into the promotion, over 70 people stood in line for free scoops, wrapping around the corner of Ben & Jerry’s and bending again to avoid blocking the entrance of Douglas Cosmetics.

“It’s not like money, money, money. It’s giving back,” said Jamie Sanford, holding a cone of Berry Berry Extraordinary sorbet. “I’d like to see more people give back to the community or just give back to the customer.”

Sanford was only in the line for a second time to hold a spot for a friend. It just took her a moment to convince herself.

“If the line goes quick, I might get another,” said Sanford, before concluding, “No, this is enough. I can’t be greedy.”

But not everyone headed for the line after seeing billboards or hearing word of mouth about the delicious giveaways.

Ana Corretta and Sasha Baker sat directly across from the ice cream retailer waiting for a MARC train with no cones or cups in their hands. Their rationale: Corretta is lactose intolerant and Baker loves ice cream, but hates the calories. “Low-fat ice cream is a lie,” she said.

For others, loyalty was the primary motivator.

Leelee Asfaw, manager at the Haagen-Dazs, said business at her shop yesterday was the same as average days.

“I know they’re giving away free ice cream but Haagen-Dazs is better,” said Reginald Greenlee, after making a purchase at Union Station’s Haagen-Dazs, downstairs from Ben & Jerry’s. Greenlee admits to being an occasional Haagen-Dazs visitor, but has “lots of it in the freezer.”

Even more than the taste, some Ben & Jerry’s customers were happy with the company’s efforts in its global day of ice cream giveaway.

“I think they’re a great company that believes in social values and leads the way in corporate responsibility so I hold them in high regard,” said Sigdyal. “My ice cream habits probably won’t change all that much. I don’t eat a lot of ice cream but when I do, I prefer Ben & Jerry’s because they use milk without rBGH (a synthetic hormone given to cows to increase milk production).”

So will the one day of complementary ice cream lure customers back for more?

“Probably not,” said Sanford. “Free is free.”