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'I want to feed people. It's my favourite thing to do,' Karen Willoughby says
What do you do if you're a professional chef but you're stuck at home during a winter storm cleanup with a burning need to feed people?
If you're Karen Willoughby, you cook up some huge pots of vegetarian curry and rice and you bake some bread. Then you enlist a few friends, shovel out the area below your living room window, hand-colour a sign and wait.
"Warm yer lil bellies up," Willoughby's sign read Thursday, offering a free, hot, homemade meal to anyone who stopped at her residential walk-thru in downtown St. John's.
"I like to make people feel good," Willoughby told The Telegram around 6 p.m. Thursday, still serving meals but winding things down. "I haven't been able to be in the kitchen this week, and I want to feed people. It's my favourite thing to do."
Willoughby is the chef at The Ship Pub in St. John's, which, like all local businesses, has been closed for the past week due to a record-setting snowstorm and a subsequent week-long state of emergency to allow snowclearing crews the time and space to clean up the streets.
Willoughby and friends in her York Street neighbourhood have been going back and forth to each other's homes for the week, passing the time and helping each other out. With supermarkets operating on limited hours and limited supplies, restaurants closed, and many local residents missing shifts at work and exhausted from shovelling mountains of snow, they came up with the idea for the free meal walk-thru.
Vegetable curry, rice and bread was something easy to make and warm on the belly, said Willoughby, who often makes curry dishes at The Ship.
The goal on Thursday was to start at noon and dish out free meals to anyone who wanted one until the food was all gone. By suppertime, about 35 people had stopped by, Willoughby said, including neighbours, passersby and people who had heard about the walk-thru on Facebook.
"When I saw that on Facebook today, I smiled because it's such a Karen thing to do," said Tony Murray, who books live entertainment for The Ship. "She's an extremely creative chef and a great person to be around. Karen's food will blow your mind."
"She's super kind and loves to feed people," added Dennis Fennelly, Willoughby's friend. "It was a lot of fun and helped to pass yet another SOE day."
The City of St. John's expects to be able to remove the emergency restrictions early Saturday morning, and is permitting business owners to access their premises Friday to prepare to reopen. Willoughby is waiting to hear the plan for when she'll get back in The Ship kitchen. If she's not working right away, she says, she might open the walk-thru for another day.
"It feels nice to be nice," she said.
Willoughby and her pals got much praise on social media for their free meal project, with some saying it made them proud to be a Newfoundlander.
"Amazing," wrote one neighbour. "No need for food, but I'd love your bread recipe."
Twitter: @Tara Bradbury
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