Mealshare takes the stress out of giving back 

Partnerships with local restaurants provide additional funding for food at the Calgary Drop-In & Rehab Centre. Photo by Tara Rathgeber

Calgary’s recently implemented concept of “giving back” is having a measurable, positive effect on the food people eat at Calgary’s Drop-In & Rehab Centre.

The Mealshare program provides a steady flow of funds to assist the centre, Calgary’s main provider of shelter for the homeless, to serve healthier, heartier meals.

The Mealshare program uses a simple buy-one-get-one model. When a customer buys a Mealshare-designated meal at a participating local restaurant, the restaurant dedicates one dollar from that purchase to the Drop-In Centre.

Jordan Hamilton, manager of the Drop-In Centre, says Mealshare is a highly effective partner.

“The true impact of what’s actually happening [with] food is a lot more than a plate,” Hamilton says. “[Mealshare] has helped us increase the quality of our meals and helped pull people off the street. It helps those in need come into our shelter, it helps them realize its not some big scary place. It helps them talk to our counsellors, get them into housing. With just a meal we can change a person’s life.”

The meals that are being served at the Drop-In Centre can be anything from fish and chips to homemade hamburger and fries to turkey dinner.

Mealshare funding “translates into meals one-for-one here,” Hamilton says. “It’s amazing.”

Shayne Perrin, co-owner of Blue Star Diner and Dairy Lane Café, is a passionate supporter of the Mealshare program, as his diner was one of the program’s pilot restaurants.

“We’d done a lot of charity in the past but they had always been bigger, one day, splash events,” Perrin says. “Entire days’ sales, flood relief — I wanted to find a way that we could spread that reach throughout the year.”

Mealshare asked Blue Star Diner and Dairy Lane Café to be pilot restaurants, which Perrin saw as a way to get started by spreading that reach.Perrin says there are a number of surprising reasons for newer restaurants to get involved. While the program can cost a piece of a restaurant’s bottom line at the outset, he says, in the long run it can make the restaurant more profitable.

“[Mealshare] really solidifies your business, and it really involves the community. It makes your customer base latch on to your restaurant and brand.”

Over 137,500 meals have been provided in Calgary already, as a result of Meashares “one-for-one” initiative. Photo by Tara Rathgeber

Perrin says his customers really get behind the program and enjoy the “opportunity to buy a meal and give back to their community.”

Customers of various participating Calgary restaurants have been interacting with Mealshare via Twitter and showing their excitement about the initiative.

@HeatherLoney tweets, “I never take photos of my food but this is for a good cause! #MealShare.”

@CathyTheRN tweets, “Learning more about #MealShare. Very cool concept. Awesome #DropInKindness.”

“We’re all a part of this world. We’re all a part of the same ecosystem, so poverty affects everyone,” Perrin says.

Breanne Sich, Mealshare’s Calgary community leader, is an example of how effective a delicious meal can be in boosting much more than morale.

“I understand what it’s like to be wondering where your next meal’s going to come from and it being nutritious and not fast food [is crucial],” Sich says.

“[My] family was strengthened thanks to [meal programs] that gave us a healthy meal. It strengthened our sanity and pushed our family to keep moving forward. We’ve never been on the streets, but still [benefited] as we were living below the poverty line.”

In Calgary, Mealshare provides funds for meals at the Drop-In Centre. With city eateries including pubs, brunch spots and diners all contributing, over 137, 500 meals have been provided in Calgary already. Mealshare Calgary also has a national charity partner, Save the Children, which gets a portion of the funds raised here.

Participating restaurants can be found across Canada, and more and more Canadian cities are joining the program.

“Over eight million people that dine out in Canada alone can be turned into philanthropic customers,” Sich says of the program.

“That’s how the idea for Mealshare started. There’s so much global food insecurity in the world, but there’s also a huge problem in our [Calgary] community as well.”

trathgeber@cjournal.ca

The editor responsible for this article is Veronica Pocza and can be contacted at vpocza@cjournal.ca