When Kevin and Stephanie Mathieson learned that their restaurant could help provide free meals to youth in need, the couple thought it was a great chance to give back to their community.
Their Centretown restaurant launched a new partnership this month with Mealshare, a Canadian non-profit working to end youth hunger.
“It really sticks with our core values,” said Stephanie Mathieson, co-owner of Art Is In Bakery, located on City Centre Avenue near Bayview station. “We really want to be part of the community and make a difference that way.”
Mealshare, which came to Ottawa five months ago, celebrated over a million meals served to hungry youth across Canada as of Nov. 1. Of those meals, 11,514 were served in Ottawa. The program is adding eight new partners in the city this month in hopes of increasing those numbers.
Since its launch in 2013, Mealshare has worked with more than 300 restaurants in eight cities nationwide. The group aims to provide a free meal for each purchase of a Mealshare-labelled menu item at partnering restaurants.
These partners select a few items on their menu to mark with the Mealshare logo. If a customer chooses one of these items, they get their meal at the regular price. But they also help provide a meal to a hungry youth. Mealshare calls it a “buy one, give one” model.
“If people chose to buy, let’s say, one of the sandwiches that is part of the Mealshare (program), there’s an amount attached to this that we owe the association at the end of the month,” said Mathieson.
Mealshare collects this money to give monthly cheques to their local charity partners. Half of all meals served are delivered by these charities, while the other half are provided by Mealshare’s international partner, Save the Children Canada.
In Ottawa, Mealshare’s primary partner is Operation Come Home, a walk-in centre for youth headquartered on Gloucester Street in Centretown. The charity uses the donations from the program to shop for meals to serve during its daily drop-in hours.
“It’s really wonderful because in the past it’s (been) very difficult to afford things like meats,” said Lynda Frank, OCH programs and services director. “With the funding we’ve received through Mealshare, we’re actually able to provide really good, hardy meals every time people are here.”
She said 1,500 meals were served through Mealshare last month to about 200 youth. Cristina Dufaure is one who benefited from the service.
“I have food in my fridge every day and my belly is full in the morning,” said Dufaure. “If it wasn’t for the food bank here I probably would have starved some days.”
The 25-year-old said she gets milk, fruit and meat from the centre, where she’s been coming every week day since she moved to Ottawa last year.
She said she even hopes to organize a bake sale to raise funds for more meal options and to help draw more youth to the food service. “I think if people saw that more people are coming, we could get more help,” she said.
The community support for a project like Mealshare in Ottawa has been unbelievable, said the group’s Ottawa community leader, Mariam Zohouri. “I think Ottawa really does have a strong penchant for grassroots movements,” she said. “I feel that Mealshare fits right into the ecosystem that already exists.”
Mathieson thinks the idea will get positive reactions from customers. “We get a lot of youth at Art Is In,” she said, “so I think it will be well received.”
The Clocktower Brew Pub, one of Mealshare’s existing partners in Ottawa, helped serve at least 760 meals.