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Zelienople restaurateur helps feed needy

| Sunday, March 31, 2013, 12:01 a.m.
Justin Merriman | Tribune-Review
Randy Herbe, the owner of Z-Town Cafe in Zelienople, travels twice a week to feed homeless people on the Boulevard of the Allies, Downtown. On Wednesday evening, he hands out hot soup to those in line.
Justin Merriman | Tribune-Review
Randy Herbe, the owner of Z-Town Cafe in Zelienople, travels twice a week to feed homeless people on the Boulevard of the Allies, Downtown. On Wednesday evening, he hands out hot soup to those in line.
Justin Merriman | Tribune-Review
Phealan Robinson, 14, volunteers with Randy Herbe, the owner of Z-Town Cafe in Zelienople, to feed homeless people on the Boulevard of the Allies, Downtown on Wednesday evening, March 27, 2013.

Randy Herbe, owner of Zelienople's Z Town Café, spends most of his days cooking.

He'd cook a bit less if he weren't also running a ministry called Feed My Sheep.

Twice a week, in every kind of weather all year, he and about 10 volunteers set up makeshift dining tables on the Boulevard of the Allies and feed from 20 to 100 people.

“I have been cooking all my life. This is just a big catering job every week,” Herbe said.

The project was started by George Ford, a retired Zelienople carpenter, who named the ministry after the Bible verse John 21:17. In it, Jesus tells St. Peter to “feed my sheep.”

Ford, who stopped volunteering several years ago, ran the operation from his apartment. Herbe says owning a restaurant makes it easier for him to organize food storage and preparation.

Lots of the food Herbe serves is donated. The Zelienople Kiwanis Club, which he heads, is a regular source of donations.

When there's not enough food, Herbe uses food from his restaurant to make up the difference. He says he does not know how much money he spends on it.

The food is given out on Tuesdays and Wednesdays at 7 p.m.

“It's a way of giving back. We have many volunteers. The people that we serve — 99 percent of them are just great people,” said Herbe, who said his empathy for poor and homeless people is rooted in his own substance-abuse problems from the past.

In warmer weather, as many as 100 people show up. In winter, there might be as few as 20.

Herbe brings more food in the latter part of each month, when people may have run out of food aid or other government assistance.

“Some of the people who come to us are actually homeless. There's an encampment near East Ohio Street. Others live underneath the inclines,” he said. “We have noticed the increase of people over the past couple of years, with the poor economy.”

Many volunteers, such as Frank Gould of Cranberry, look forward to serving the meals. Gould has cooked everything from stuffed peppers to wedding soup.

“It is rewarding. You are giving back and people who need to eat,” said Gould, a retired PennDOT bridge inspector and designer who has volunteered for about three years.

Herbe also sponsors a $1 spaghetti dinner in Zelienople on the last Friday of each month.

“We charge $1 because some people do not like getting a handout. Some people pay more than $1, which is how we keep it going.”

Rick Wills is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 412-320-7944 or at rwills@tribweb.com.

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