Linda Nielsen and Shawn Haines were determined to give back to the community -- pandemic or no pandemic.
That's why when they launched Port Cafe in May this year, they cooked up three ways of helping out those around them.
"From the very beginning, Tuesdays is called Thunder Tuesday," said Nielsen. "Part of every sale goes towards the Port McNicoll baseball league. And every dollar from every ice cream sale goes to the Waverley Ravens fastball league team."
So far, she said, they've raised $620 through the ice cream donations and $300 for the Port McNicoll baseball league.
"We have Customer Appreciation Day coming up on Sept. 26," said Nielsen. "So we're going to have some activities happening here. And then we're going to present the league with the money then. We're going to continue with these programs."
But the third program, which evolved from how they had initially imagined it, is what caught everyone's eye on Facebook.
"We are now a solid five months into this pandemic and the country has officially been put into recession," read a post on the Port McNicoll cafe page. "If anyone is not working, not getting paid, has had their hours cut, times are just tough, please don't you or your kids go to sleep on an empty stomach. Please stop by for a hot meal. Don't be afraid of embarrassed to send me a private message."
Nielsen and her partner call this the suspended meals program.
"A suspended meal is when someone comes in and buys a meal and then donates money towards a meal on the menu," said Haines, who is the chef and is passionate about whipping up some of the customers' favourites, such as hogies, slip burgers, and fish 'n' chips. "When someone who can't afford it, they come in and if they ask us for the meal, they can have it for free."
That's what it started out as, said Nielsen.
During the pandemic, Haines said, they found a lot of people were struggling and having a hard time trying to feed their families and themselves.
So it quickly changed into them rallying the community behind the cause to gather food for families in need, she said.
"The first couple families messaged us on Facebook and gave us their story," said Nielson "Within a day and a half, we had boxes of food (groceries) for this young family. This wasn't just us that provided the food. I put the word out and the community they just dropped it all off here. We gave them a gift certificate for a meal for their family."
The two said they plan on running these programs for as long as they can.
"It makes us feel good," said Haines. "That's what our goal was, to give out to the community. It's my passion to cook and feed people."
Nielsen said it's been going well so far.
"Port has been very good to us," she said. "The residents make sure that we're up there. We've got people that come from Bala or Parry Sound for our hogies. We're doing well."
The cafe located on Talbot Street is open six days a week from Tuesdays to Sundays.
Mehreen Shahid, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, OrilliaMatters.com