free meals                                                                                                                                                   

Restaurant Initiative Distributes Over 35,000 Meal Vouchers to Older Adults

UNIONTOWN, Ohio – Oct 15,2021 - The Restaurant Initiative, a program created by Direction Home Aging and Disabilities and part of the Ohio Department of Aging’s Staying Healthy Program, sought to meet the increased demand from older adults for nutritional services in Portage, Stark, Summit and Wayne counties with help from locally-owned small businesses. 22,864 redeemed restaurant vouchers provided nearly $230,000 worth of meals to recipients during the year-long program.

Thanks to the CARES Act Covid-19 Programming, Direction Home Aging and Disabilities has been able to offer adults 60 years or older a free bundle of $10-12 vouchers to any of the 24 local participating restaurants. These vouchers provided dine-in, carry out and delivery services to recipients. “When we were approached about participating in the program, we were trying everything we could to get business,” Troy Boatner, a manager at The Barn Restaurant, said. “It just made sense.”

When asked what inspired her to participate, Jo Ann Groves, owner of Megan’s Family Restaurant, said “To help others and hopefully advertise our restaurant.” Groves, like many of the other restaurant owners, was thankful for the opportunity to help the community and hopes recent increases in business will continue long-term. The program had a positive response from local business owners and community members alike.

Voucher recipients reported being able to try out local restaurants they had not been to previously thanks to the program. Recipients also stated Restaurant Initiative helped them with their meal assistance concerns as they continue to experience trouble finding meal and nutrition assistance throughout the pandemic.

“Most of the customers that received the vouchers are on a fixed income, so they were very grateful to be able to have breakfast, lunch and/or dinner provided without having to think about where they were going to get it from,” Nicole Watters, owner of Nicole’s Restaurant in Akron, said. “All of my customers want the program to continue. They all love this voucher program.”

Of the voucher recipients that provided feedback, 100% said they would be willing to participate in a similar program in the future. The Restaurant Initiative program has helped them feel less isolated and filled a need for meal assistance. “In communities everywhere there is always a need to do more, but you do what you can,” Watters said. “During these times I’m just happy and grateful that I have a safe place for people in the community to come feed their bellies and socialize.”

Hunger, especially among older adults in America, is on the rise. Food banks across the country have seen a rise in demand at a rate that far surpasses pre-pandemic levels. Many older adults have lost access to their local senior centers amid shutdowns. Grocery shopping has also become a scary prospect, and many may not have friends or family who are able to help. Meal access continues to be one of Direction Home’s most requested services.

John Kriston, owner of Green Diamond Grille, said he is concerned with making sure the nutrition needs in the community are being filled. Eating more nutritional, healthy meals has been a concern for his customers since the start of the pandemic. Thanks to the Restaurant Initiative, Kriston said Green Diamond Grille was able to help customers “eat nutritional meals and realize what’s available in the community.” Kriston’s motivation for joining the Restaurant Initiative was “making sure people had enough food (most everything homemade and always fresh) and to help educate them.”

Not only has the Restaurant Initiative been able to assist older adults in need during these unprecedented times, local businesses who have also been impacted by the pandemic have felt a sense of relief because of their participation in the initiative. For The Barn Restaurant, Boatner stated “We have had an increase in business with customers using the vouchers. It is our hope that we will get return customers.”

Nicole’s Restaurant also believes the Restaurant Initiative has been a benefit for their business. “I am confident that these vouchers will bring us continued return customers,” Watters said.

Staffing shortages have also been a concern for restaurants across the country during the pandemic. Participating businesses were aided with an unanticipated ripple effect from the redemption of Restaurant Initiative vouchers. “Customers came in and tipped and treated my staff very well during the pandemic and that was a tremendous boost,” Wil Schueneman, owner of Wil’s Grille and Pub, stated. “I didn’t have to lay anyone off during the pandemic, so that’s a good thing. I’d like to continue hiring people in and maintaining staff.”

Schueneman wants to continue doing what he and his restaurant can for the community as the pandemic continues. “We would like to donate more and provide more free meals,” he said. “There’s always a way to help more, you just have to be in the right area to do it with the right organizations. The Restaurant Initiative is a good program, I’d be willing to do it again, even on a smaller scale.”

Direction Home would like to thank everyone who participated in the Restaurant Initiative, whether it be as a voucher recipient or as a local business.

For more information about nutrition assistance and other services, call Direction Home Akron Canton’s Aging and Disability Resource Center at 877-770-5558 // email // visit The center is open Monday-Friday 8 a.m. to 5 p.m.


Contact: Matt Reed,, 330-899-5208


View a full list of participating restaurants here