As It Happens

Oklahoma restaurants cover walls with prepaid receipts for anyone who needs a meal

Whoever said there's no such thing as a free lunch hasn't been to northeastern Oklahoma.  Several restaurants have invited their customers to prepay for a meal for someone else and tack the receipt to the wall. Then anyone can come in, grab a receipt, and order some grub, no questions asked.

Customers can prepay for meals and hang up the receipts so someone in need can have a hot lunch or dinner

Jennifer White, owner of The Dawg House in Miami, Okla., smiles in front of a wall of receipts for prepaid meals that anyone can come in and use, no questions asked. (Submitted by Jennifer White)

Whoever said there's no such thing as a free lunch hasn't been to northeastern Oklahoma. 

Several restaurants across a handful of small cities and towns have started covering their walls with meal receipts. Customers are invited to prepay for a meal for someone else and hang the receipt on the wall. Then anyone can come in, grab one, and order some grub, no questions asked.

"It's definitely taking a huge leap forward. We've had to expand into having two walls — so the entire front of our restaurant at the moment on the inside is covered with tickets," Jennifer White told As It Happens host Carol Off.

White's restaurant in Miami, Okla., The Dawg House, was the first in the area to enact the food sharing program, and since then it's taken off.

"Within about six hours of starting the wall, we had another restaurant in town that jumped on it and started the wall there. And then next, a third restaurant actually started their wall as well," she said. "So we've kind of provided as a community three different places that people can go and get a hot meal."

The phenomenon has also spread to the nearby towns including Grove and Vinita, Okla, according to the Washington Post.

This sign on the wall at The Dawk Hawse in Miami, Okla., reads: 'If you are hungry or know someone that is hungry & unable to afford a hot meal at the moment these meals have been paid for in advance. Grab a ticket & have a meal. #Payitforward #Lovethyneighbour #Lovelocal.' (Submitted by Jennifer White )

White says she got the idea from her friend Sandye Williams, who tagged White in Facebook post about an Arkansas restaurant that was doing something similar. 

"She said, 'This seems right up your alley.' And I said, 'I'm doing it tomorrow,'" White said.

She bought the first meal herself, and posted a sign encouraging others to do the same. Her friend Williams stopped by later that day to add a second ticket to the wall.

"Then throughout the day, the customers were the ones who saw and asked about it and how they could help their neighbours. And most people who have dined in choose to add at least one meal," White said.

People who want to use the receipts can do so discreetly, she says, by simply ordering their meal at a table and letting the wait staff know. 

'It's just our community. We gave them the opportunity to give and help their neighbours. And I'm mind blown by how they've taken up the torch and really ran with it- Jennifer White, owner of The Dawg House in Miami, Okla.

White estimates The Dawg House has given away more than 1,000 meals since they started in February. "And we only have eight tables in our restaurant, so that's something really awesome," she said.

The restaurateurs involved say the popularity of the free meals shows there's a need in their area. The pandemic has left people in dire straits, and the winter freeze that hit the southern United States over the spring didn't help. 

"It seems like we've had a rise in homeless people in our area lately, and I thought it would be great to help them to get a meal," Lacey Perry, who runs Zack's Cafe in Miami with her husband, told the Post.

"Giving customers an opportunity to do something good for someone else is a great idea."

White says a real mix of people have come in to take advantage of the free meals. Some are homeless. Others are between jobs or short on cash.

She says she never pries for info, but some share their stories anyway.

"One gentleman said, you know, 'I don't get paid until Friday, and I was really hungry.' And I told him, 'No, I'm glad you came in. Come back for dinner even,'" she said.

"And he got paid that Friday and came in and actually bought two more meals than what he had originally eaten off of the wall and replaced them."

Another man decided to work for his meal, she said, even though nobody asked him to. 

"We were actually really busy the other day, and one of the gentleman that was in here getting a free meal who is homeless at the moment, he actually got up and started helping clean tables and bag up to-go food, which was very sweet," she said.

White says she's moved by how generous her customers have been 

"It's really not anything that we're doing. It's just our community,' she said.

"We gave them the opportunity to give and help their neighbours. And I'm mind blown by how they've taken up the torch and really ran with it."

Written by Sheena Goodyear. Interview with Jennifer White produced by Sarah Jackson. 

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