Main St. business neighbors team up to provide 1,000 free meals

Railroad & Main restaurant (left) and The Essex Agency insurance company (right) as seen from across Main Street in Essex Junction.

A pair of businesses have decided to collaborate in order to support local families dealing with food insecurity during the COVID-19 crisis.

The Essex Agency insurance company recently donated $5,000 for ingredients while its nextdoor neighbor, the Railroad & Main restaurant, is donating its labor to provide over 1,000 free meals to those who need it--either being financially strapped or just stressed out by recent times and in need of some help cooking dinner.

The generous effort evolved after David Holton, president of The Essex Agency, had a hankering for ice cream one night a few weeks ago. He detailed the story of how the idea came about on the Mugs Up! Morning Show with Annie Cooper.

Holton said he ventured through the Five Corners and swung by the insurance agency’s building at the intersection of Main and Railroad Street--hardly seeing anyone else out around the village that evening. He noticed owners Courtney and Todd Roman sitting at the bar inside of their restaurant, gave a friendly wave, and then exchanged a few quick words with Courtney. He was about to head home before inspiration struck.

“I'm getting ready to leave, and I got thinking, ‘Wait a minute, hold on. I got more to say,’” he recounted.

Holton says he summoned Courtney back outside with another wave and proclaimed, “I have an idea. I'd like to do something for our community. Something that would be a little bit different than, say, a United Way donation. Would you like to partner on feeding our community during this stressful time?”

The agency’s president proceeded to offer a $5,000 donation from the company if the Romans would be willing to take and turn it into meals for the community out of their restaurant.

“Dave and [Vice President] John Handy definitely get the credit for this,” said Courtney. “We were happy to participate. We're so secondary in this. It's not every day when someone knocks on your door and says, ‘Hey, I want to give $5,000 worth of food out to the community,’ for no other reason but just to be nice to people--because times are really hard right now.”

Railroad & Main created 1,000 vouchers to be handed out which can be redeemed for any entree normally served. While the restaurant is not able to offer appetizers, desserts, or drinks, the Romans didn’t want to create a different, limited offering to those looking for a nice, hot meal.

“One of the big things that my husband and I wanted to make sure was that it was a feel-good voucher, so we didn't want to put any restrictions on it,” Courtney noted. “They can get anything off the menu.”

Courtney says that, as of Sunday afternoon, about half of the vouchers had been given out--although they haven’t all yet been redeemed. But that’s a good thing for a restaurant that, itself, is still struggling amidst the coronavirus pandemic.

“Because it's spread out, it's actually pretty easy to do,” she commented. “It's not like you're feeding 1,000 people in one day; we just wouldn't be able to do that, financially.”

There are no requirements to receive a voucher, and they are on a first-come, first-served basis. They can be obtained by contacting either Railroad & Main or The Essex Agency through their Facebook pages, calling, or emailing railroadmainvt@gmail.com.

“If they want to get meals for mom and dad and the kids, that's okay,” said Holton. “We're more than willing to do it. If they want to come three nights in-a-row, that's okay. We're doing it for the first thousand people that show up, and we're hoping that we can make a lot of people happy.”

The head of a company which has been ingrained in Essex for the last 48 years added that it’s a way of one hand washing the other.

“Essex and Essex Junction have been great for our business--our employees--and many of them live in the junction or in the town area,” Holton stated. “So we're part of the community; we're part of the fabric. And this is part of our way of giving back a little something.”

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