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Fork & Spoon, the Human Resources Development Council’s nonprofit, pay-what-you-can restaurant, has seen a big drop in donations since the COVID-19 pandemic began in March, according to a news release from HRDC.

“Probably the main struggle we’ve been working with is how to function with a very lean staff and how to function with very lean income dollars,” said Leah Smutko, the head chef and a manager at Fork and Spoon. “Trying to figure out how we can get food sent out, how we can feed as many people in the most efficient way with as minimal contact as possible.”

The restaurant serves between 80 and 100 people per day, Smutko said, and has served over 13,000 meals since Gov. Steve Bullock announced the now-rescinded shutdown orders on March 16.

All those meals have been made without its volunteer staff and on a tight budget, Smutko said. To try to stop the spread of the virus, Fork & Spoon cut all of its volunteer staff in March. Its sit-down dining remains closed, and only one customer is allowed in the restaurant at a time.

Before the pandemic, Fork & Spoon was far from hurting for volunteers. It even had a wait list. Smutko said that has been one of the biggest changes during COVID-19.

“Just that morale sense of having people here, really, has been the most notable shift since the pandemic hit. It’s been very quiet and unfortunately with that silence also comes a reduced influx of cash flow,” Smutko said. “It’s not that the community doesn’t care anymore. It’s just that when you’re not here ... you don’t think to put money down.”

The for-profit catering side of Fork & Spoon that funnels money back into the restaurant hasn’t been operating. Most of the events it would normally serve have been canceled or moved online.

Fork & Spoon exists to “redefine what access to food looks like,” said Smutko, and is a big part of HRDC’s food programming. The restaurant has been providing daily meals for people in HRDC’s emergency housing shelter since the pandemic began. That’s akin to doing a 20- to 60-person catering order every day.

Some of the patrons who come to Fork & Spoon are staying in HRDC emergency housing, but many are “not what you’d stereotypically think of” as people who are food insecure, Smutko said.

“Everybody who is coming in here has a story, has a background, and we are seeing all walks of life,” she said. “You never really know who is going to be in need until you actually have that conversation, and so I want people to understand that Fork & Spoon is for everybody.”

Smutko said donating money is one of the best ways to help the restaurant during this tough time. Fork & Spoon is also putting on various fundraisers, like selling handmade take-and-bake pies for Thanksgiving, and will potentially have volunteer slots for people to serve hot chocolate and tea to those waiting in line for the restaurant this winter.

More information on donating to Fork & Spoon is available on the restaurant’s website,

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Melissa Loveridge can be reached at or at (406) 582-2651.