When the governor ordered restaurants across Illinois to stop dining-in service last week because of coronavirus, Paul Boundas did not want to stop feeding people.
So the co-owner of Country House Restaurant in southwest suburban Alsip went to Facebook. He asked folks to tell him about seniors and vulnerable families who might have trouble getting food in the coming days.
“That first Facebook post got 86,000 views,” Boundas said, adding that the phone at Country House hasn’t stopped ringing.
In less than a week, Boundas said his group of about a dozen cooks and a dozen volunteers has distributed nearly 3,000 free meals in nearby suburbs.
“The emails and the interactions during the person-to-person drop offs are just heartbreaking, just so emotional,” he said.
He’s said support from the community and a GoFundMe page that raised nearly $48,000 in five days has allowed him to re-open two of his other kitchens closed in recent weeks — at St. Xavier University on Chicago’s South Side and Marion Catholic High School in Chicago Heights. His other business is preparing cooked meals for students.
Boundas said the meal packages include dishes like ham, turkey, roast pork, corned beef and vegetables with soup — lots of soup. Food suppliers have also donated loads of fresh produce — broccoli, cauliflower and lettuce — that has been stuck in limbo now that so many restaurants have shut down.
As the leader of the operation, Boundas had been mostly leaving the deliveries to the volunteers. That is until a call came in last week from Julie Malcheff. She lives in Wisconsin, far away from her elderly parents, who live in southwest suburban Frankfort.
“I live two and half hours away,” Malcheff said. “And so there is not a lot I can do for them.”
Although she hoped Country House could deliver a meal to her parents, she learned that Frankfort — 25 miles away — was out of their delivery area. But before she hung up, Boundas overheard the call and said he would bring the food to her parents on his way home to Frankfort.
And that’s how Bud Malcheff, 93, and his wife Barbara, 90, came to get a knock at their door.
“This gentleman came in, and he brought us two days of food from the Country House restaurant and he said he was the owner,” Bud Malcheff said. “I was just totally shocked.”
“My father was elated,” Julie Malcheff said. “He couldn't believe that someone would actually do that.”
Boundas said the exchange was also emotional for him, especially when he learned the couple’s ages and saw a war veteran’s patch Bud wore.
"I should be thanking them — not the other way around," he said. "And they'll be a regular stop on my way home."