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DeLand Dishes Back is a new nonprofit organization that provides free meals from local restaurants. The idea came from Norwegian expat Vidar Antonsen and a pastime he enjoys: buying strangers’ meals when he goes out for dinner.

“It’s kind of fun,” he said. “Because sometimes you get people having a bad day, or a celebration of some kind, or you see people crying, so it’s kind of fun.”

Antonsen, a regular visitor to and friend of the Downtown DeLand restaurant Byte Bistro, at the corner of East Rich Avenue and North Woodland Boulevard, decided he wanted to make his meal purchases official by hosting events at the restaurant.

The group has had five events, Antonsen said, and has given away nearly 5,000 meals.

Having recently come into some money thanks to a real estate deal, Antonsen said he seeded the nonprofit organization with $30,000 to help people who could use it more than he could.

“That $30,000, it has a way bigger impact on each of those 5,000 than it does on me,” he said.

FREE FOOD! — Stetson University football players, from left, Trinity Conway, Deven Thompson and Jamison Brundidge enjoy free meals at Byte thanks to DeLand Dishes Back. Conway said the three don’t get the chance to eat out very often due to football practice, and that the trio enjoyed the opportunity for a free meal.

Gabby Huddleston, the charity’s president, said she sees it as an opportunity to give people more than just a free meal.

“Some people can’t go to a restaurant ever, so it’s nice to have a meal outside of your home where you’re comfortable,” she said.

Vice President Casey Korkus agreed.

“You see a lot of organizations that do food banks, but this is a little different where you actually come to a restaurant and have a night out,” he said. “The way I look at it, is sometimes people don’t have that opportunity.”

For now, the charity’s home is Byte, but Huddleston said the plan is to continue expanding the work and doing more for the community.

DeLand Dishes Back is planning to provide meals to members of the police and fire departments during the holiday season, she said, and is currently looking at providing meals to Title I schools in the area.

“Starting off with Byte has been easy and rewarding so far, because we’re close with the owner,” Huddleston said. “We definitely will be expanding out into the community, whether it’s with schools, hospitals, other businesses or other restaurants.”

Antonsen said he’s happy to see some good come from his idea.

“It’s fun to see people’s reaction. That’s what you spend your money on: things that make you happy, and this makes me happy,” he said. “It’s more fun than buying a Disney ticket. I have more fun buying the meal.”

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