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2022 JEFFERSON AWARDS | Laura Mahn - The Nourisher

Laura Mahn is "Multiplying Good" by letting you pay whatever you want for a meal - to fund her mission of helping the hungry.

ROCK ISLAND, Ill. — All over our area, there are people who are not just doing good - but "Multiplying Good."

Every year, we honor them with the Jefferson Awards - a nationwide foundation that celebrates amazing acts of public service. 2022 is WQAD News 8's 8th season of being a Jefferson Awards Media Partner, sponsored locally by Genesis Health System and Tyson Foods.

From Feb. 1 through March 22, News 8's Angie Sharp is introducing you to this year's nominees. To see all of our Jefferson Awards Nominees, past and present, click here.

2022 Jefferson Awards: Laura Mahn

How much did you pay for your last meal? $5? $10? $100? What if you could "Pay What You Can" and help fight hunger at the same time? That's what Laura Mahn is doing with her nonprofit restaurant called NEST Café Quad Cities.

NEST has hosted monthly pop-up meals throughout the area since June 2020 - mere months into the COVID-19 pandemic. The process is simple - you go to the location and you have a meal. You can pay whatever you want. The mission is not about the money, but about nourishing "bodies and community by providing delicious, sustainably sourced food to all who enter regardless of their means." 

"What's really good is that it knocks out the whole barrier between people that are serving and people that are being served," explained Laura. "So we'll have college students and people in Rotary Club and people in all kinds of civic organizations and church groups, volunteering with us - right in with people that are volunteering because they need a meal - and nobody necessarily knows who's who and why they're there. They just get to know each other as human beings and everybody's eating the same food."

It's not fast food or meals packed with preservatives, either. Laura describes it as restaurant-quality food that comes from local farmers and growers:

"It's nutrient-dense food that really serves our bodies - and why shouldn't everyone be eating that?"

What's more - the community that is created around the meal makes her mission even bigger, intangible. 

"You and I can have a conversation over a meal, or helping to prepare a meal or cleaning up after a meal, and get to know each other and then your family might need something," she explained. "I have connections, or I know someone that can help you with what you need, or someone that can help me with what I need. Or you've been really lonely and now we've made a connection - or I've been lonely and we've made a connection. So, I think that's the greater good."

In March 2022, NEST is opening a permanent location at 15th Street and 4th Avenue in Rock Island. It will be open five days a week, adding to the 2,000+ meals that Laura and her team have already served. 

She is "Multiplying Good" through her selfless acts of public service - which is why WQAD is honored to recognize her as one of our 2022 Jefferson Awards Nominees.

To see her entire interview with News 8's Angie Sharp, watch the video below.

Watch more Jefferson Award nominee stories on News 8's YouTube channel

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