Local lunch spot serves free meals even if you can't pay

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PORT CLINTON, Ohio (13abc Action News) - Pay it forward is the concept of helping others. An Ottawa county restaurant is based on that principal,serving free meals to those in need. It's called Bistro 163.

The bistro opened its doors in Port Clinton in June. So far, they've served more than 2,000 meals, but those involved with it say the best thing to come out of the space isn't the food

The concept at this community cafe is simple.Those who can't pay for their meal don't have to, and those who can often pay extra. About a third of all the meals served are given away free.Stacy Maple is the Director and the Executive Chef, "It's a way to bring together those in need with those who want to help. Everyone eats together in the same space with dignity."

Stacy says the bistro is one of about 50 "Pay it Forward" food ministries around the country, "I never had a face to put with local hunger before working here."

Stacy isn't just any chef, she was classically trained at Le Cordon Bleu. She worked in Florida and Atlanta before coming home to Ohio, "People realize quickly that this is a special place. We make everything from scratch and most of it is Ohio sourced. The food is pretty darn good if I don't say so myself!"

Troy Blevins works alongside Stacy as a chef. He came for a meal one day and was offered a job the next day, "It's the best place I have ever worked."

The single father of two is here five days a week, "You feel proud about what you do all day. People are able to eat because we were here to make a meal for them. Without this place there would be a lot of people going hungry in this county."

Bistro 163 is a non-profit and mission-based restaurant, "This is a way to get out from the pews and not just spend money, but actually get involved in changing lives and the community in a way that people often don't have a chance to do."

Stacy is the only full time employee There are five part time workers and everyone else is a volunteer like Marsha Bordner,"There is something so fulfilling at the end of the day after being here. It is uplifting to know that in some small way you made a difference in someone's life or the lives of an entire family."

Some of the stories heard around the tables are of course about struggles and tough times, "When we started we thought it was just about food and feeding people, it's about so much more." And because of this place, there are big smiles, joy and plenty of good food for everyone.

In exchange for the free meals, people are asked to volunteer their time. They call it a hand up, not a hand out. The bistro also works to connect those in need with other community organizations that can help.There are also community meals and special study programs for kids offered through the bistro.

We've posted a link if you'd like to donate your time or money.