SCARBOROUGH, Maine — The pandemic forced many restaurant owners to get creative. The Red Barn in Augusta has been no exception. Still, even in the wake of rising prices and product scarcity, owner Laura Benedict is as committed as ever to giving back to the community that has helped make her successful.
The Red Barn, long known for many fundraisers, has closed three times over the last two years. Now Benedict is taking her food to the people with the food truck she's named "The Red Barn Roadshow."
"My brother and I have always loved the Antiques Roadshow, and we are on the road ... different city every day," Benedict said.
It's what Benedict is doing when she's not selling food that is so exceptional. Over the last few months, Benedict has visited ten different nursing homes and veterans' homes across Maine to feed seniors and staff for free.
"I have been drawn to people that know more than me and that have had more life experience. Just to sit down and bask in the knowledge that they have seen firsthand, the sacrifices, and to be like a memory keeper," Benedict explained.
The Red Barn staff donate their time, and Benedict donates everything else. On Monday, "The Red Barn Roadshow" stopped by Maine's Veterans Home in Scarborough, feeding more than 200 veterans and staff members fried chicken and haddock.
Veterans like Richard Miele, who, despite recently celebrating his 99th birthday, remember his service during World War II with vivid clarity.
"I went to Europe and was stationed in southern England looking for German airplanes," Miele, who graduated from Windham High School, recalled.
Miele served in the United States Army, specifically as a radar operator, trying to find German planes. He followed General George Patton to Omaha Beach and then on to Germany.
Of all the memories he has of his service, one detail of peeling Maine potatoes aboard the Queen Mary sticks out. Those potatoes were a comfort, a reminder of home, and that's the power food can have, a power Benedict understands well.
"We always had no food when we were growing up. I always dreamed about getting food when I wanted it and not when it was available," Benedict said. Being able to now give food away for free is a full-circle moment for her.
Veterans and seniors open up and share their stories with Benedict. From the dozens of photos of seniors and veterans on her food truck, it's easy to see Their lives inspire benedict. She's swapping suppers for stories as she visits with veterans and seniors around the state and walking away feeling like she's getting more than she gives.