Many local restaurants in Centre County were hit hard by coronavirus restrictions over the past year. Along with restaurants, many people lost their jobs and became unable to afford food.
John Patishnock wanted to create a solution to both of these problems.
Patishnock, a Penn State class of 2005 graduate from the College of Communications, created Feeding Happy Valley — a philanthropic project designed to help local restaurants and people who can’t afford food. The project will begin April 1.
Feeding Happy Valley was inspired by a restaurant in Louisiana that allows customers to prepay for meals to go to other individuals for free. Patishnock said he wanted to bring this idea to Happy Valley.
Patishnock said the program will initially spend $1000 on meals from restaurants in the Centre County area, which will be given to anyone who wants them with no questions asked.
The funding for Feeding Happy Valley comes from 3 Dots Downtown, an organization that funds creative and philanthropic programs in the State College area.
“It truly is a win-win,” Patishnock said. “The local economy will get a little bit of a boost and local individuals who want to eat but are struggling financially will also get a boost.”
Patishnock said he’s reached out to around 10 different restaurants to participate in the program.
Feeding Happy Valley will provide vouchers for the free meals, because Patishnock said he wanted to emphasize the idea that asking for help is OK. He said there’s “no shame” in using the vouchers at restaurants.
“I hope this is something that folks feel comfortable using,” Patishnock said.
Patishnock also encouraged others to support local shelters and food banks throughout the pandemic.
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Spud Marshall, the innovation director of 3 Dots Downtown, said Feeding Happy Valley received the funding as the recipient of the “Awesome Grant.”
This $1000 grant is one 3 Dots gives every month to anyone with an idea to make State College a better place, according to Marshall. The grant has funded many different projects including environmental programs and downtown murals.
“Anything in the creative or artistic realm is fair game for us,” Marshall said.
Patishnock reached out to 3 Dots in February, and Marshall said it was the project that generated the “most excitement” among its trustee group.
“We could tell that the individual submitting was super excited to finally make a meaningful mark on the region,” Marshall said.
One restaurant that is planning to use the Feeding Happy Valley program is Bonfatto's Italian Market & Corner Café in Bellefonte.
David Letterman, owner of Bonfatto’s, said he heard about the project after Patishnock reached out to him through email.
Letterman said he was intrigued by the program, which is what sparked his desire to become a part of it.
“I couldn’t believe that we need something like this,” Letterman said. “I was on board right away.”
Though excited, Letterman said he’s uncertain about how Feeding Happy Valley will go.
“I don’t know what [the customers’] reactions will be,” Letterman said. “I think there might be some hesitancy at first.”
Letterman said he feels it might be difficult for some to overcome their pride and accept the free meals.
While several restaurants have been hurt by the pandemic, Letterman said Bonfatto’s wasn’t.
“We’ve been very fortunate,” Letterman said. “We reacted very quickly.”