Every Wednesday, State College residents can get a free meal from a cafe tucked away amid books.
Located at 133 E. Beaver Ave., Webster’s Bookstore Cafe distributes vegan and gluten-free lunches and dinners from 11 a.m to 2 p.m. and from 4 p.m. to 6 p.m. at no cost, according to Corey Elbin, Webster’s chef.
“I would say it has been a really engaging and positive way for Webster’s to feel productive and bring health and good energy into the community,” Elbin said.
Though each meal costs $10, community members can choose to pay as little or as much as they would like for the meals depending on what they can afford.
Elbin, along with other Webster’s employees, prepares and allocates 125 to 150 meals a week.
People can either order meals online in advance on Webster’s Facebook page or in person to pick up the free meal at the door, he said.
Additionally, the cafe makes extra meals to give to a local business of their choosing each week.
“It feels nice to feed the staff of a local business,” Elbin said.
According to Elbin, a wide variety of people participate in the weekly food pick-up.
He said people come on Wednesdays for various reasons, including dietary and other needs.
Every meal is sourced with local ingredients, as Webster’s works with local farmers and curates each meal using the “freshest” foods, Elbin said.
This week, the cafe is offering a medley of stuffed box peppers, quinoa pilaf and a garbanzo flour flatbread served with local pear chutney.
“This is what a typical meal will look like,” Elbin said.
Additionally, on Thursday’s, Elbin will make extra food to take to the food pantry at St. Andrews — located at 208 W. Foster Ave. — which will serve another 40 people, he said.
“We started doing this shortly after the lockdown, when community members weren’t feeling confident going to restaurants or grocery stores,” Elbin said. “We wanted to offer a safe meal that helped get food to people and families and also help support local farmers.”
And it has raised people’s spirits, Elbin said.
According to Elaine Meder-Wilgus, the store’s owner, Webster’s plays an important role in connecting farmers with locals.
“Realizing that our regular customers had reduced options for vegan and gluten-free meals during the pandemic, we developed this concept to get real food into the community,” Meder-Wilgus said. “It’s so important to all of us that we not only serve as a bridge between the farmers and local folks, but also a light of hope for those feeling isolated.”
Meder-Wilgus knew of many customers who have “drastically” changed the way they shop for food, and Webster’s has played a part in sharing its healthy food recipes to the community, she said.
People like Catie Rasmussen who pay the full $10 help provide a meal for someone in need, as Webster’s can distribute two free lunches or dinners for every person who pays for one meal.
“For my husband and I, Webster’s is the heart and soul of State College,” Rasmussen, a State College resident and a regular customer of Webster’s, said. “Buying meals each week is a way for us to support Webster’s through this COVID experience. We want to support Elaine and Corey.”
Rasmussen said the vegan and gluten-free meals are “great” and are a good way to bring the community together.
“Webster’s is proving that gluten-free and vegan food isn’t bland and boring,” Rasmussen said. “They are doing a great job.”
Although Rasmussen is not vegan, she enjoys not having to cook a meal each week.
Theresa Shay, another community member and customer of Webster’s said she “loves” the meals the cafe provides.
“I love Webster’s meals because the food quality is amazing,” Shay said. “Elaine is the most intentional chef around and you can taste the joy in the meals.”
The meals are made up of whole foods, which is the type of food that nourishes the body, she said.
Not only are the meals good for the community, it also is a productive way to give back, according to Shay.
“What has been happening for the last six months has affected people in so many ways,” Shay said. “I feel so good when I take the resources I have to buy a filling meal and at the same time support someone else’s healthy eating.”
MORE BOROUGH COVERAGE
Since the coronavirus pandemic began in March, doctors and other medical professionals natio…