She Doesn’t Like Guthries co-owner Heather Letourneau and her husband, Randy, have made donations to the Trinity Jubilee Center soup kitchen over the years, donating soup at Christmastime and for Trinity’s annual Empty Bowls Supper. This year, Trinity turned it around, and purchased meals from the restaurant. Daryn Slover/Sun Journal Buy this Photo

LEWISTON — A few days before Christmas, in the throes of the pandemic, a customer of She Doesn’t Like Guthries found a way to support the restaurant while donating food to those in need.

With a cash donation, the staff cooked up 100 burritos and delivered them to Trinity Jubilee Center, which was also dealing with a year like no other.

The donation sparked a new initiative that has supported local restaurants while making it easier for the soup kitchen to serve hot meals to its clients.

Due to COVID-19, Trinity was down on volunteers and its small crew struggled to keep up with prepping hundreds of hot meals per week, Executive Director Erin Reed said.

“These restaurants have donated to us when we needed help. Now we want to be there for them,” Reed said. “So instead of calling to ask for a donation we’re calling to say ‘hey, we’d like to make a big purchase!'”

Guthries co-owner Heather Letourneau said her restaurant has now done three or four batches of burritos, and she said the purchases were a big boost during a rough stretch of winter months for the business.

“January and February were just so painfully slow,” she said, even as the restaurant tried to boost takeout and delivery using services like DoorDash. “Even with that, in the middle of winter, it was just really tough. So having that a few times was very helpful.”

Trinity has been rotating between purchases from four different restaurants, also including DaVinci’s, Wei-Li, and the Italian Bakery. Dubbed “Operation Take Out Hunger,” the purchases depend on a donation campaign.

According to Reed, half of the funds raised go to the soup kitchen’s operating expenses, while the other half are used to purchase meals from the local restaurants.

“The restaurants have been so grateful for the business,” she said. “Some of the restaurant owners come in early to cook for us, or bring it over to us in their own cars. Getting these restaurant meals is a huge help and our soup kitchen guests love the extra food.”

Letourneau and Guthries had already worked with Trinity in the past, when the restaurant would donate soup for the shelter’s Empty Bowls Supper, an annual spring fundraiser that features food from several restaurants.

However, that meal has been canceled for the past two years due to COVID-19, so Trinity reworked the annual fundraiser in hopes of support the local restaurants who have given to the shelter in the past.

Reed said donations have come from local companies like Mechanics Savings Bank, Brookfield Renewable, and Berman & Simmons, as well as individual families and organizations.

Guthries co-owner Heather Letourneau, left, and employee Courtney Lachapelle stand with 100 burritos that were sent to Trinity Jubilee Center in April.

“Everyone wants to see their favorite restaurants survive the pandemic,” she said. “This way they can keep these family businesses open and help people in need at the same time.”

So far, Reed said, Trinity has served more than 600 restaurant meals. With a few more donations, they’ll make a sixth purchase —  another order of vegetable fried rice and chicken teriyaki from Wei Li.

“Our guests raved about their food last time and Wei-Li even threw in fortune cookies for everyone,” Reed said.

Wei-Li owner Cam Luu said Operation Take Out Hunger has been “a fantastic idea.”

“Anytime you can help the community, it’s a good thing,” he said.

The Chinese food restaurant operated takeout-only for a good portion of the pandemic, but has since reopened to indoor dining. Luu said it’s been nice to have the extra business, but said, “Even if they asked for it free, we’d still cook it.”

Wei-Li had previously cooked hot and sour soup for the Empty Bowls Supper.

Letourneau said she would love to see the partnership continue, but also said business at Guthries has been better. Last week was the restaurant’s busiest week since reopening after a long, pandemic-induced closure.

“Things have been steadily increasing,” she said. “It’s very encouraging.”

Know someone with a deep well of unlimited public spirit? Someone who gives of their time to make their community a better place? Then nominate them for Kudos. Send their name and the place where they do their good deeds to reporter Andrew Rice at [email protected] and we’ll do the rest.

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