Since shutting their doors to customers temporarily due to the coronavirus threat, Carroll Ann and Gaetan Oakes, owners of Whistle Stop restaurant in Fort Kent have been using their inventory to provide free meals to seniors in the town. Credit: Courtesy of Whistle Stop

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FORT KENT, Maine — A Fort Kent couple whose restaurant is on temporary coronavirus shutdown is preparing and delivering free meals to seniors and a few residents with disabilities in the community.

Carroll Ann and Gaetan Oakes, married for 23 years and owners of Whistle Stop restaurant in Fort Kent, provided delivery service to the community after Gov. Janet Mills’ ordered all restaurants to cease in-restaurant dining, but quickly found it to be cost prohibitive.

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“It got to a point where it’s costing more to open for delivery and take-outs than it is to just close,” Carroll Ann Oakes said.

Credit: Courtesy of Whistle Stop

Rather than let their inventory go to waste, the Oakeses have prepared and delivered free meals to 60 older residents in the community each day since.

“It’s sad to say, but we could do another 60 easily,” Oakes said. “I wish we could feed them all.”

Whistle Stop has several reasons for providing meals to the older residents.

“Our town is a small town, but our town is built of elderly people,” Oakes said. “A big part of our clientele are the people that are 70 and above. They are what keeps us going. They’re loyal. They come in many times throughout a week, and without them, I think a lot of businesses wouldn’t be as successful as they are.”

Credit: Courtesy of Whistle Stop

This respect for the elderly is not new to Whistle Stop.

Since opening in 2017, Whistle Stop dedicated a section of the restaurant as “Grandma’s Corner” in honor of Oakes’ late mother Christina Plourde Thibodeau. Oakes had taken care of her mother for many years until Thibodeau reached the end of a long battle with multiple sclerosis and cancer.

“They say today’s kids are tomorrow’s future. Well the elderly were our future; they are the ones who fought on the battle lines for us — they are the reason why we have a future,” Oakes said.

Out-of-work Whistle Stop employees have volunteered their time to help provide the free meals to the elderly and a few residents with disabilities.

Meals have included some old favorites, such as chicken stew and ployes, baked beans with hot dogs, cole slaw, cucumber slices, egg salad sandwiches and tomato rice soup.

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“I’m really trying to focus on the meals that they used to eat in their younger years — meals that they grew up on,” Carroll Ann Oakes said.

She said the residents appreciate the meals and the short company the delivery service provides, as many of them are experiencing fear and isolation.

“They’re stuck in their homes, and they’re scared to death,” she said. “This lets them know they are not forgotten.”

Credit: Jessica Potila

Oakes said several residents have tried to provide payment, which Whistle Stop refused.

“Whatever we’re feeding them now saves what they have in the house for later,” Oakes said.

“I feel this is a hard time, and if I can make it a little bit better I’m gonna do my part,” Oakes said.

“At a time like this, everybody needs to pull together and do their part, and I feel like this is the part I was called to do. I don’t know how long I can do this, but I’m gonna do this as long as I can,” she said.

Watch: What older adults need to know about COVID-19