Muskegon restaurant owner hosts free Thanksgiving meal


MUSKEGON, Mich. — It once attracted the attention of the Food Network for its massive stuffed hash brown dish dubbed "The Grizzly," but there's something even more special about Papa Bears Restaurant in Muskegon.

Every year, owner Robin McElfish closes to the public on Thanksgiving Day and opens up to serve a free meal to whoever needs it.

"Some years we've had 85 people, other years we've had 50," McElfish told FOX 17. "People need a place to be for Thanksgiving, they should never be alone."

This will mark the 14th year in a row that McElfish has offered this special meal.

McElfish provides most of the food herself, but the community does chip in with donations and volunteer hours to get everything set up.

"All the tables with linen table cloths and napkins and all of that. Decorations, it's a mad house but it's a lot of fun," said McElfish.

"I walk around and I see how much fun people are having and complete strangers interacting with each other and it makes me cry, because that's why we do it."

It's not just Thanksgiving. McElfish is known for giving back all year long: donating coats to a local women's shelter, collecting Toys for Tots, and raising money to adopt families for Christmas, among other good deeds.

"Robin is always giving," said customer Ron Pimpleton. "It's just a tremendous place to come."

Server Wenoka Martz adds, "(Robin) sees people. No one's invisible to her, she's been through so much and yet she gives and takes care of people. Always."

In 2017, McElfish learned she had a brain aneurysm. Just months after surgery she was back on her feet, cooking and chatting with customers once again.

Giving is something she learned from her mother; it's something she always wanted to do as an adult.

"I want to show people that you can do, you don't have to have a ton of money, you don't," she said. "You just need to give. Give what you can."

McElfish hands out Thanksgiving baskets to those who can't attend the meal.

She's also collecting pop cans and bottles to raise money to help families this Christmas.

If you'd like to attend that Thanksgiving meal at Papa Bears, McElfish asks that you call ahead to make a reservation.

Dinner is scheduled to begin at 1 p.m. at the restaurant, located at 2280 East Apple Ave., Muskegon.

As the FOX 17 and Lake Michigan Credit Union Pay it Forward Person of the Month, McElfish is receiving a $300 prize.

Know someone who should be featured next month? Nominate them here.

Meet Lauren Mahoney, our October Pay it Forward Person of the Month.

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    I’d like to nominate Judie Pratt, President of The Lemonade Stand of Muskegon. She has helped MANY people for over 20 years.

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