Mealshare, which launched earlier this year with programs in Edmonton, Calgary and Vancouver, will celebrate a homecoming next week when it launches its Victoria program to benefit Our Place’s busy kitchen.
“We are really excited about launching here. It’s the West Coast, so people are really in line with our initiative and focus,” said Derek Juno, one of the three partners in Mealshare.
The idea behind Mealshare is to buy one meal and to give another meal away.
By purchasing a menu item with the Mealshare logo from a partner restaurant, a diner has basically paid for a meal for someone less fortunate at a local soup kitchen.
“We wanted to make this as easy as possible. We have made giving extremely easy — you don’t have to do anything other than pick a meal and enjoy it,” said Juno. “It allows you to align your values socially with what you do anyway, dine out.”
Juno and co-founder Andrew Hall are both University of Victoria commerce graduates and are based in Victoria. Co-founder Jeremy Bryant is based in Edmonton and is responsible for development in Alberta.
The trio have become brokers for the less-fortunate who rely on soup kitchens. Mealshare has established a growing network of partner restaurants who designate a few items on their menu as Mealshare offerings and the sale of each item means $1 will go to a local and international food program.
“There’s no extra charge to customers, so if they can’t decide on a meal, they might as well pick the Mealshare meal as that provides a meal to someone else as well,” said Juno. “I think people can really understand that idea of one-to-one, it’s really tangible.
“The [giving] is built into the price and customers can decide if they want to buy it or not.”
Juno said it’s also easy for restaurants as all they have to do is pick a few items from the menu and tweak the point-of-sale to track the donations. “Most restaurants want to give back, do something philanthropic,” he said. “This is easy, just pick the items and we do the rest.”
Steve Jackson, co-owner of Lido Bistro, one of the four Victoria restaurants who are taking part in the program — the others are Zambri’s, Canoe Brewpub and West Coast Waffles — said the program is ideal.
“I thought it was really cool how they can turn a buck into a meal,” Jackson said. “From our perspective, it’s kind of a no-brainer. It doesn’t cost much. It’s a feel-good thing and, for the people dining, it means they are giving back as well.
“What the heck, everyone wants to feel good and to help people out.”
From the dollars collected each month by Mealshare, a small percentage covers company costs and, in Victoria, the balance is split between Our Place and the Children’s Hunger Fund.
Juno and his partners are not taking salaries and consider their volunteering as “skin in the game” and a signal they intend to be around to see the program grow.
“It’s exciting and our [charity] partners are excited. If we get big, then they get big and can provide more meals,” said Juno. “If we can provide meals for them then they can do education, job acquisition and focus on other important stuff apart from basics of meals.”
For Rhiannon Porcellato, manager of fund development for Our Place Society, Mealshare could be a massive help to the organization that provides as many as 1,500 meals a day on a very tight budget.
“It’s absolutely fabulous and innovative,” she said. “It certainly helps us as our budget is extremely tight. Even a small amount makes a tremendous difference for us.”
Porcellato said Our Place can make a meal for between $1.10 and $1.50. “Even if we start at $100 [from Mealshare] a month, the impact will be huge,” she said, noting demand for their services continues to climb as they see more of the working poor and seniors trying to stretch their budgets.
Juno said the potential for the program is massive, noting there are eight million Canadians who dine out each day. The immediate goal is to sign up 25 restaurants, at which point the partners expect to be able to draw salaries.
When the four Victoria restaurants are added to the mix, there will be 13 in total.
To date the Mealshare program in total has donated nearly 7,000 meals.