A week after schools around the state announced that they would be closing as a safety measure to prevent the spread of coronavirus, two locally owned restaurants in Skowhegan are participating in efforts to help feed the community.

While Maine School Administrative District 54 is able to feed students during the week, restaurant staff say that they are concerned about those who are not in school and those who are not able to have dinner or meals on the weekends.

Heath Howard, the manager at Ken’s Family Restaurant, and Chad Partridge, co-owner of Al’s Pizza, said that they were both approached by a community member last week, asking for some kind of community board so that gift cards can be purchased and placed on the board for someone else to use.

“(They) came to me and wanted to kick it off, and they set us up with the board and gave us money to get started,” Partridge said. “It’s received a lot of attention and shares and engagement since it kicked off on Thursday. It’s really touching to see that folks are benefiting from it.”

“Our board is set up on a take-what-you-need basis,” Partridge said. “There are no questions asked and no judgments. We just ask that people respect the system and use it as it’s intended.”

Howard and Partridge said that the community has donated more than $500 in gift cards, coming from people in town and in other states, including Massachusetts.

“Our board is full now,” Howard said. “It can be anybody that comes in to use them. They can come in and take enough money to cover a meal.”

Neighbors Helping Neighbors community boards with free gift cards are in place at Al’s Pizza, pictured Monday, and Ken’s Family Restaurant in Skowhegan. The cards are for those suffering hardships amid the coronavirus pandemic. Morning Sentinel photo by Rich Abrahamson Buy this Photo

With coronavirus spreading throughout the state, both restaurants have closed their dining rooms but offer takeout and curbside options. While both restaurants still offer their full menus, Howard said that could change in coming weeks.

“We have a big menu, but we might cut it down to avoid food waste,” Howard said. “The food companies are feeling the brunt of it.”

Additionally, both restaurants have taken extra measures to keep their facilities sanitized and their employees protected.

“We have always been very, very clean,” Howard said. “We aren’t having our customers touch pens, we are wiping handles and doorknobs every few minutes and we have the option to pay by phone now.”

For cash transactions, he said that staff members must clean their hands before returning to work.

Neighbors Helping Neighbors community boards with free gift cards are in place at Ken’s Family Restaurant, pictured, and Al’s Pizza in Skowhegan on Monday. The cards are for those suffering hardships amid the coronavirus pandemic. Morning Sentinel photo by Rich Abrahamson Buy this Photo

At Al’s Pizza, Partridge said that they have done “a few things to enhance our hourly checklist.”

“We’ve made a few adjustments. We are still accepting cash, but we have been suggesting cards. If people do pay with cash, we have the employee wash their hands after every transaction,” Partridge said.

Additionally, while the dining room is closed, he said that the room has been rearranged to serve as a waiting area so that people can practice social distancing.

Howard said that his staff has been cut almost in half since the restaurant closed its dining room.

“We can’t have as many people on as we like,” he said. He added that employees were given the option to continue working or to take time off.

“We are doing as much as we can,” Howard said. “If someone is sick, we tell them to stay home.”

Ken’s Family Restaurant, at 411 Madison Ave., is open from 11 a.m. to 7 p.m. Sunday through Wednesday and from 11 a.m. to 8 p.m. Thursday through Saturday.

Al’s Pizza, at 29 Waterville Road, is open from 5:30 a.m. to 9 p.m. Monday through Friday and 8 a.m. to 9 p.m. on the weekend.

“I hope that people are able to get in here and have a meal,” Howard said. “We try to do as much as we can for the community.”

Both shared stories about people in the community who have benefited from the support.

“We are trying our best to do the right thing,” Partridge said. “It’s a nice little offbeat element to it to help give us hope.”

As of Monday evening, there are 107 confirmed cases of COVID-19 in Maine.


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