It was a brisk Friday afternoon and the sun was shining on the Soul Platter Café in downtown DuBois, a “pay-what-you-can” restaurant, as it served its first lunchtime customers after more than three years of planning, hard work and dedication.

It’s a dream-come-true shared by a core team of individuals — the Rev. Sarah Sedgwick, Erin Heath and Stefanie DuRussell — where all people, regardless of their income, can eat a healthy meal.

“Sarah, Stefanie and I remarked how wonderful it was to hear the laughter and chatter of our guests,” said Heath. “To see it all come together, from the fresh salad we picked, to the smells of the kitchen, to excited volunteers and the donations coming in before we are officially open, it’s just been a vision up until today. And now it’s real.”

The Soul Platter Café designed a “Friends and Family” day Friday and another one from 11 a.m.-2 p.m. Friday, Feb. 22, so that its volunteer staff would have a chance to practice before its official opening on Friday, March 8. There will be a “soft opening” on March 1 and whoever happens to find out that the café is open will be welcome to come in.

“So far we’ve had the tomato basil soup, and I’m having a deli sandwich,” said Leanne Nedza, of DuBois, on Friday, with her mom, Sue Nedza. “She’s (Sue) having a salad. And the soup is delicious. You can tell it’s fresh and homemade.”

“I really liked it,” said Sue, noting she is planning to come this Friday with some friends, “I like that it’s all local. That’s impressive to me. It’s a terrific idea and nothing like it in the area.”

The café sources different kinds of fresh vegetables, meat and cheese from local farmers and producers along with food artisans, partnerships which have always been part of the vision, said Heath. The restaurant also receives food from the Central PA Food Bank and the Salvation Army, in addition to growing its own.

DuRussell and her husband, John, are creating outdoor gardens in the backyard of the Red Mission House property on West Scribner Avenue — where the café is located — and help maintain an aquaponic garden on the property of First United Presbyterian Church next door.

DuRussell is also the kitchen manager, setting the menu and organizing the volunteers in the kitchen. The volunteers will be prepping food earlier in the week.

“We had a few student volunteers come during the evening hours, since they can’t volunteer during the school day, and the girls that showed up and volunteered this week for prep were awesome,” said Heath. “I think that’s going to be a pretty key demographic for us to leverage just the student population.”

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