‘There’s hope out there’: Bone Ends offers free meals for children 18 and under as families face life without school 

Jamie and Rusty Morningstar at Bone Ends in Whitehall. Photo by Anna Gustafson

When Bone Ends executive chef and founder Rusty Morningstar heard last week that all of Michigan’s schools would close for three weeks because of the coronavirus, he knew he had to do something to support the youth in his community.

So, without hesitation, he and Bone Ends’ owner, Jason Lillmars, decided their Whitehall restaurant would offer free meals for anyone under the age of 18 through April 5. Students are slated to return to school on April 6.

“I have been in awe of the response,” Morningstar said Monday morning. “We’ve had a ton of community members donate money for the kids’ meals. The community has really come together. People coming together is the only way we’re going to make it through this.”

It’s that sentiment—one centered around a love of community and everyone in it—that’s keeping Morningstar and his team of 16 employees afloat. Right now, Morningstar, like people throughout the restaurant industry in Michigan and across the country, have little idea what the future holds for them. As of 3pm Monday, all restaurants and bars in Michigan are mandated to close. Restaurant delivery and carry-out services will continue.

“There are so many scared people right now, and I’m one of them,” Morningstar said. “But we’re going to push forward as hard as can.”

There is, he explained, a lot of fear. Restaurants and bars could be forced to “shut down completely,” depending on what happens with the spread of the coronavirus, which Morningstar said could “be the end of so many small businesses.” Owners and employees are worried about their jobs. Families don’t know if they’ll be able to get dinner on the table every night. In less than a week, life has turned upside down for so many in our state, and throughout the country.

As the unknown dominates so much of our lives right now, Morningstar and his team at Bone Ends want there to be at least one constant: any child who needs a meal can get it at their restaurant for free. 

“I saw the owner [Lillmars] at 10am on Friday, and I said, ‘We’re going to offer meals for kids; if you can’t cover it, I will with my pay,” Morningstar said. “I said, “Reduce my pay to cover it, whatever you’ve got to do.’ It came down to we have to do the right thing.”

Lillmars was immediately on board with covering the costs of meals for children. And as soon as Lillmars, Morningstar and Morningstar’s wife, Jamie Morningstar, who works as Bone Ends’ front of house, announced the decision on Facebook, it went viral. Thousands of people have shared the post; the restaurant was packed over the weekend with people wanting to know how they could help. 

“We never thought it would go as big as it did,” Morningstar said. “Friday and Saturday we killed it in here. People who’ve never been here before came in. We want others to know there’s hope out there. The community is really coming together.”

That’s a sentence Morningstar repeats time and again: the community is coming together. It’s a sentence that is said with a lot of emotion, and gratitude. After all, Morningstar said, he knows what it’s like to struggle. He knows the importance of being there for people as they try to keep their heads above water. 

“We’ve been in real crappy times,” he said. “I know what it’s like to be there, and I know there’s a lot of families who are scared right now. I know there are kids whose only meals they eat are at school.”

And so Morningstar is following what his grandparents and mother always taught him: “Do for others whenever, even when you have nothing,” he said.

Bone Ends is located at 604 E Colby St. in Whitehall. The restaurant will offer delivery and pick-up services during the restaurant shutdown. To place an order or request a meal for a child, please call 231-893-3000. For more information, follow Bone Ends on Facebook by clicking here.

Story by Anna Gustafson, the publisher and editor of Muskegon Times. You can connect with her by emailing muskegontimes@gmail.com or on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.

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