Last year, they carried the restaurant through the darkest days of the pandemic with donations. Now, they’re carrying each other — with donated meals.
The restaurant, a nearly 16-year staple in Norfolk, Virginia, has begun a free meal initiative to feed the community with meal donations from customers.
Anyone who needs a meal can go to the restaurant, pull a ticket off the “Franks for Friends” bulletin board and exchange it for a menu item.
“Maybe Covid hit them really hard, or they’re in between jobs — or maybe they’re taking a meal for their neighbor,” Tarah Morris, the owner of Perfectly Frank, told CNN. “We don’t ask any questions.”
The initiative began and grew quickly
The idea for “Franks for Friends” began with a single donation.
After reopening the restaurant to in-person dining, Morris said community donations decreased as people felt a sense of normalcy.
But her staff — mainly college students from Old Dominion University — were struggling to make ends meet.
A friend and longtime customer donated $2,000 to the restaurant, asking that $100 went to each staff member and the rest went to feeding the community. With $700 left over, Morris began to give away free meals.
The initiative evolved quickly. Customers began donating, too. A bulletin board was put up. A clipboard was designated.
“I had no idea that was going to happen,” Morris said. “We began collecting meals faster than we were giving them away.”
Morris said approximately five people claim meals per day — a number that barely scrapes the amount that’s available. To get more meals out, Morris’ staff prepares bulk orders for local after-school programs twice a week.
In the restaurant, she tries to keep the meals on the bulletin board different.
Hot dogs, salads and melts populate Perfectly Frank’s extensive menu — but cheeseburgers are the most popular items.
Free meal customers take their ticket to the register to redeem it, where they can customize their order and choose a drink.
‘It’s not even about the money’
Morris said she is getting calls, emails and letters from people across the US who want to support “Franks for Friends.”
One email from Miami, Florida, stood out to her.
“He said, ‘I don’t have much money — I’m actually broke — but I saw your story …’ and he was so filled with joy to know that there are good people out there doing good things in this chaos,” Morris said.
The man later called to donate a meal — $10 — but his card got declined.
The Perfectly Frank’s employee who was on the phone with him put in her card details, donating $20 in his name.
“That story was the most touching and it only involved $20,” Morris said. “It’s not even about the money. It’s about people doing nice things for somebody.”
There’s no end in sight
Morris said that the surplus of donated meals is so large, she can’t foresee an end.
“I’m hoping it goes on forever,” she said. “At the rate the donations are coming in, I feel like it’ll never stop.”
Morris said she hopes to partner with more local organizations to give away bulk meals. But for now, she said everything that’s happened has been a much needed lift in spirits.
“Coming off of Covid and all the hardships — we didn’t know if we were even going to make it,” she said. “We went from ground zero to as high as you can go. It’s been very uplifting, very humbling. We know we’re going to be OK.”
Morris said Perfectly Frank has given away over 100 meals so far. She doesn’t think they’ll run out anytime soon.