Members of Ottawa's restaurant community gathered at Queen St. Fare on Tuesday night to celebrate the largest-ever expansion launch in Mealshare history.
Twenty-eight new restaurants have signed on and agreed to help end youth hunger, bringing the total number of eager eateries in town to nearly 100.
“The rapid growth of Mealshare over the past year is a testament to our passion for helping others and our desire to create a better future for the next generation,” said Katie Hession, who's been a driving force behind Mealshare's success in Ottawa, since coming on board 18 months ago as a community leader.
More than one million Canadians need access to food-assistance programs every month, yet there are either million people dining out in Canada every day, the room heard. This is where Mealshare comes in, said Hession, whose imitation of the trumpet fanfare created for cute sound effects. Hession is also a major social media influencer in town, with nearly 20,000 followers of YOWcitystyle on Instagram.
The way it works is, partner restaurants have designated Mealshare items that are marked on their menu with the organization’s logo. When a customer orders one of those items, the restaurant donates a portion of that sale back to Mealshare so that it can provide a meal to a youth-in-need through Operation Come Home, the Parkdale Food Centre and the Boys and Girls Club of Ottawa.
To date, Mealshare has helped to provide more than 200,000 meals to youth in the nation's capital. It also reaches out internationally through Save the Children Canada.
All the way here from Edmonton for the latest launch was one of the co-founders, Jeremy Bryant. He helped to start the social enterprise in 2013, following a stint as an accountant with PwC.
When the award-winning national program came to Ottawa in 2016, Bryant was also there for its big day. “It was incredible for me, as a West Coast boy, to come out here and watch Ottawa rally around Mealshare and fight around youth hunger,” he told the room. “It’s been such a pleasure to watch, from that day until this day — the biggest launch to date.”
Guests heard how support from the restaurant community often goes one step further, with some staff taking the time to visit the beneficiary charities to help prepare the meals.
The folks at the Heart & Crown have been dropping into Operation Come Home about once a month since the local chain of Irish pubs got involved last year, said co-owners and sisters Kristen Bradley and Shauna Bradley. The charity provides a drop-in and resource centre for local at-risk and/or homeless youth.
“We get to show the staff, firsthand, the impact that Mealshare is making,” said Shauna. “I knew of Operation Come Home when we signed on but to actually see where the money is going and who it’s helping really opens your eyes.
“It’s also nice to see that there is somewhere for people to go when they don’t have any other options.”
The audience heard from Boys and Girls Club of Ottawa executive director Colleen Mooney. She talked about the many kids who arrive without having eaten that day to their seven clubhouses located in at-risk neighbourhoods throughout Ottawa.
Mealshare helped the BGCO serve 27,000 meals in 2018. Without its help, those meals might have been downgraded to snacks, or required the club to find other sources of funding.
Mooney shared a story of being at a recent barbecue at one of the clubhouses, hosted for the youth by one of their generous patrons. She decided to wait until the food lineup dwindled before jumping in to get a burger.
“The interesting thing was, the lineup never ended. I finally figured out that the kids were going back and back and back,” said Mooney. “I asked this little guy, who looked to be around nine or 10, how many burgers he'd had. He said he was lining up for his fourth, and then he added in his very quiet voice: ‘I didn’t have anything to eat [all day] before I came to the club tonight.’
“This is the story of a lot of kids in Ottawa. Thanks to Mealshare and to all of you for making an incredible difference.”
Queen St. Fare celebrated its official launch last December. The food hall, which consists of seven restaurants, serves lunch and dinner and offers evening and weekend musical programming, with DJs and bands.
The businesses are looking forward to when the light rail system — which has a station right next to the food hall — is finally up and running, acknowledged Queen St. Fare event coordinator Jordan David. “The LRT is a big part of the puzzle but we’re still getting a lot of foot traffic and a lot of traffic from people working inside the building, as well.
“We have a lot of repeat customers, which has been great.”
Vendors of Queen St. Fare, located at 170 Queen St., donated 25 per cent of all food sales that night back to Mealshare.