Skip to content

HELPERS: Paying it forward at Port Café feeds many in need

The Port Café in Port McNicoll has a suspended board that allows those in need to have a meal generously provided by other customers in the ultimate random act of kindness

In 1982, Linda Nielsen was a child on a family vacation in the US when she first saw a suspended board at a little café.

Forty years later, seeing that random act of kindness helped Nielsen and her husband Shawn Haines open Port Café in Port McNicoll featuring a suspended board system that allows you to buy a meal for those that can’t afford it.

The suspended board provides between 20 and 50 people with a solid meal every week.

“One of the rules is you can use it once a week,” explains Nielsen saying that up to 50 different people enjoy the café’s fresh classics every week.

For those interested in providing a meal to someone in need, all you have to do is go into the café and buy one of the items from the board. Those menu items include a grilled cheese, fries, a coffee, and their most popular menu offering the hoagie.

The suspended board has been such a successful experiment in paying it forward that the couple has even offered meals to people without subtracting it off the board.

Since opening the Port Café, the community in Port McNicoll has been just as supportive as the owners are of those in need.

“A father had lost his job because of COVID-19 with all the shutdowns. At first, he came in asking if we were hiring. He said he would do anything,” says Nielsen.“Then he saw the suspended board, and asked if he could bring his daughter in for a  takeout dinner."

The father explained that he and his daughter had a weekly takeout dinner tradition when he was working.

“Of course, we said yes,” says the café co-owner.

The father and daughter came in often to enjoy a meal from the suspended board.

“Last year, [that same father] came in around Christmas after he had been working for a while, and he gave us $100 toward the board,” says Nielsen.

Nielsen says that the people that use the suspended board are as varied as those that contribute to it.

“When we get new people coming into the café, they contribute right away,” says Nielsen.

“Some regulars contribute monthly or weekly,” explains the humble host, “The community here is great for supporting each other.”

This kind of selfless reciprocity can only be found in places where people have a strong sense of community.

Nielsen and Haines support their community in other ways, helping provide funds for the Port McNicoll Thunder Minor Baseball League, and the Waverley Ravens Fastball men’s team. If you like baseball, and supporting local, buy a Thunder Box (think of a poutine surprise to feed a small army) for the Thunder, and visit their newly delivered ice cream freezer to choose your flavour in support of the Ravens.

The generosity of the café owners does not stop there.

For Thanksgiving, and Christmas, Haines cooks up a big dinner, the restaurant is closed and they offer the meal for free. Last year at Thanksgiving they served dinner to 350 people. At Christmas, they helped feed 500 people.

“People will drop turkeys off for the dinner,” says Nielsen.

The population of Port McNicoll is approximately 2,500 people. Even if some of these hungry people came from out of town, these meals feed a large portion of those in need.

The Lion’s Club volunteers come to help at these holiday feasts.

“People will just donate money. So if there’s anything left over, we split it up between the volunteers,” says Neilsen.

“I guess we are humble. It’s just something that’s needed,” says the woman of few words simply stating that she does this, “Because I like helping people. I love my community. I love Port.”

To contribute to the Port Café’s suspended board, or try one of their many great hoagies, sandwiches, iced coffees, ice cream and more, visit them Tuesdays to Fridays from 11 a.m. to 7 p.m., Saturdays 9 a.m. to 6 p.m., and Sundays from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m.

The Port Café is located at 423 Talbot Street in Port McNicoll. Visit their Facebook page for more information.