Hoot Owl Café hosts weekly soup kitchen, free Thanksgiving dinner By Christian Weaner
In February 2013, Savannah Mort and her family hosted the first night of what would become a weekly soup kitchen at the Hoot Owl Café in Ponderay, a hole-in-the-wall restaurant then owned by Savannah's mother, Wendy Franck.
"On the first Monday night soup kitchen, I brought two Crock-Pots of soup and fed eight people," Savannah recalled. "I had a few people ask if it was worth it. For me, if we feed one person who needs it (nutritionally, spiritually, or just a friend), it will always be worth it."
Now, nearly 10 years, thousands of meals served and a new restaurant owner later, the Monday night soup kitchen is still going strong, serving 150 to 200 meals each week in addition to a yearly free Thanksgiving dinner.
Savannah initially got the idea for the soup kitchen after her husband, Shaun, requested that their family serve food together to celebrate his birthday. She explained that "God laid it on [her] heart" that instead of serving at a soup kitchen they should start their own, prompting her to ask her mom if they could use the Hoot Owl.
From the beginning, the Hoot Owl has provided a large pot of soup each week for the meal, in addition to full access to the facilities, but the rest of the food and labor are dependent upon financial donations and volunteer support.
"We do depend on donations of food, time and [money] to keep it running," Savannah noted. "God has been faithful to provide and meet all of our needs."
When Savannah was growing up, Wendy would host an annual "orphan" Thanksgiving at her family's home for those who had no place to go for the holiday. This yearly event inspired Savannah to begin their own version by providing a free Thanksgiving dinner at the Hoot Owl.
"It is such a blessing to be able to celebrate this holiday with the people from our community, servers and customers," Savannah described. "This meal is really an 'everyone is welcome' meal."
Approximately 450 free Thanksgiving meals were served at the Hoot Owl in 2022. During a chance encounter in June 2022 when he was stopping in to pick up food, Josh Butler struck up a conversation with Wendy about another food service venture he was working on, and she asked him to consider purchasing the Hoot Owl instead.
Josh officially took over sole ownership in October of last year, and continuing to support Savannah and the soup kitchen was one of his highest priorities.
"Because of my faith, none of this is mine," Josh explained, looking around the restaurant. "All of this has been given to me for God's purposes and for kingdom work, and that's what [the soup kitchen] is."
Both Savannah and Josh describe the work that they do at the Hoot Owl as a "ministry," giving them the opportunity to use their time and talent to love and support those in need.
"Whether I am here or not, just allowing them to utilize the building and providing them with the soup every week, [those things] are not mine," Josh examined. "It does not belong to me, [but] it's been given to me to steward well and bless others."
"This soup kitchen ministry is really my love letter or thank you note back to the Lord for his constant, faithful provisions," Savannah added.
The weekly night soup kitchen takes place from 4 to 6pm every Monday evening. For those interested in volunteering, donating or learning more, search "Hoot Owl Café" on Facebook or call the restaurant at 208.265.9348.
Thanksgiving dinner will be served 11am to 3pm Thanksgiving day, first come, first served. For those who are unable to enjoy their meal at the restaurant, to-go orders will be available after 1pm.