Forced to Pare Back Service, Local Restaurants Dish Up to Charity

Café Kandahar’s Andy Blanton spearheads effort to churn out prepared meals for local food bank while Whitefish Community Foundation awards grants

By Tristan Scott
Kelly Hamilton loads bags of food into a car at the Flathead Food Bank on March 19, 2020. The Flathead Food Bank provides bags of food via curbside pickup only to reduce chances of transmission of novel coronavirus. Hunter D’Antuono | Flathead Beacon

As the Flathead Valley’s dining establishments pare back core services in response to emergency orders designed to slow the spread of coronavirus, local restaurants have begun dishing up prepared meals to food banks struggling to keep up with skyrocketing demands.

It’s a win-win arrangement for commercial kitchens trying to keep their pilot lights on and food banks whose inventories are dwindling rapidly amid the public health crisis.

To seed the partnership, the Whitefish Community Foundation awarded an initial $10,000 grant from its COVID-19 Emergency Response Fund to local restaurants willing to participate, including Café Kandahar and the Whitefish Lake Restaurant during the initial phase.

“We’ve all switched our operations to takeout only, but we have the pieces in place to do a lot more,” said Andy Blanton, executive chef and owner of Café Kandahar in Whitefish. “In the restaurant industry, we are masters of crisis. We are ready and willing to mobilize and get food to people in need, and this could help, especially if more restaurants get involved. It helps us a little with self-preservation and it helps the community at a time of need.”

As of March 23, Blanton and Doug Reed, owner of the Whitefish Lake Restaurant, were preparing and packaging individual and family-sized meals totaling 700 individual portions. The first batch of meals will be delivered March 24 to the North Valley Food Bank in Whitefish, which, along with the Flathead Food Bank, is in danger of running out of food in the coming weeks. The food bank will then distribute the meals to those in need.

Blanton, who is coordinating the project, said additional restaurants had already offered to participate next week.

According to Linda Engh-Grady, president of the Whitefish Community Foundation, Blanton approached her about the idea shortly after the emergency response fund was established and as restaurants began preparing for limited service.

“Nonprofits like ours are always going to restaurants with our hands out asking them to donate free food to our events, and now the restaurants are shut down and they are going to be struggling,” Engh-Grady said. “This is really an opportunity for us all to help each other. It’s a win-win all around. We don’t want these restaurants to go under, and they don’t want the communities we serve to run out of food. They’re certainly not going to make any money off of this, but it keeps their staff busy and will maybe help keep some of the lights on.”

Next week, Pat Carloss, who owns Tupelo Grille and Abruzzo Italian Kitchen; Tim Good, owner of Last Chair Kitchen and Restaurant; and Linda Maetzold, owner of the Buffalo Café, will participate in the project.

Anyone interested in volunteering should contact Blanton at [email protected] or call (406) 250-1167.

To learn more about the Whitefish Community Foundation or to donate to its emergency response fund, visit whitefishcommunityfoundation.org

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