Roanoke restaurant lets customers pay it forward

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ROANOKE, Va. (WDBJ7) The holiday season is a time when many give back to those in need. One Roanoke restaurant aims to do that year-round with the community's help.

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Garden Song Eco Cafe started a program called "Pay It Forward." It allows customers to pre-purchase items such as a cup of coffee or healthy snack. They then put an image of the item on a board by the front door. When someone in need walks in, they can pick the item they want and redeem it at the counter free of charge.

“They’re treated like any other customer," said owner Maya Ittah. "So they can come in, have a seat, have a warm bowl of soup, have coffee or tea or salad, or really whatever.”

Ittah went through a point in her own life when she was left homeless after a fire. She said it was her way to give back to the community that helps support her business now.

When customers hear about the program, many want to get involved.

“For me its not about having any type of notoriety for what I do," said Olivia Body. "I just love the fact that now someone can come in here and enjoy a meal and know they don’t have to pay for it if they don’t have the means to.”

Homelessness in Roanoke is not a new problem, but it has improved. Paula Prince with the Blue Ridge Interagency Council on Homelessness said the homeless population is down about 50 percent.

She's grateful to any business or individual who steps up to help those in need.

"We’re just a generous area and my comment is thank you,” she said.

Prince recommends that if you want to help, its better to donate to organizations and groups that provide resources to those in need rather than giving those individuals cash directly.

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