Among all the forms that charitable organizations can take, there is an enormous variety of methodology and approaches to logistics, even when the different groups are attempting the same basic tasks: healing the sick, sheltering the homeless, and of course, feeding the hungry. However, even for the relatively robust community programs in a place like Victoria, there are methods of properly distributing resources that have yet to be tried—until now. Enter Mealshare, an innovative non-profit organization that aims to enlist restaurants in helping to provide food for the less fortunate.
When Victorians are ordering from local restaurants including West Coast Waffles, Canoe Brewpub, Zambri’s, Lido’s Waterfront Bistro, Toque Catering, or The Apple Box, they can now spot a distinctive fork-and-plates logo next to certain menu items. It signifies that when the item is purchased, the restaurant will make a donation to Mealshare, which distributes it to a select group of other specialized charitable organizations, each providing meals and other services. In Victoria, Our Place acts as Mealshare’s main partner charity, accounting for one third of the total meal donations, while the remainder goes to the international Children’s Hunger Fund. Mealshare’s network also includes Vancouver’s Mission Possible, Edmonton’s Hope Mission, and the Calgary Drop-In and Rehab Centre.
The organization’s founders, Andrew Hall, Jeremy Bryant, and Derek Juno, are also its primary operators. Hall and Juno are University of Victoria alumni, having first become friends during their time here, and currently live in Victoria, while Bryant, Hall’s cousin, lives in Edmonton. All three are motivated entrepreneurs who have put their promising careers on the backburner to run Mealshare, beginning with the planning stages in early 2012. In July of 2013, four restaurants in Edmonton and seven in Calgary became partners, followed by seven in Vancouver, the first of which joined up in August. Hall and Juno returned to Victoria to unite six more businesses under the Mealshare banner. In the future, they hope to spread into restaurants throughout Canada and beyond.
Hall reflects, “Starting up something like this, using the networks that I built at UVic and in Victoria, there have been some amazing people supporting us . . . I guess one of the most rewarding things so far has been how much people are willing to help with a good cause like this.”
Hall firmly believes in Mealshare’s potential to improve people’s lives. He’s committed to keeping the organization running for the long haul, and it’s important to him that the people he works with share that mindset. “We could get some partners on for a month or two and [it would have] some impact, but our goal is to make this a working partnership with each of our partner restaurants, and in doing so, make it valuable for them, something that they and their staff really enjoy . . . and then, ideally, they would stay on for years and years.”
The scale of this ambition may be large, but the plans made by Hall, Juno, and Bryant are also practical and achievable. Mealshare may still be new to Victoria, but it has already had success across Canada, with over 10 000 meals provided. Now you can help as well by choosing a Mealshare meal at a favourite local restaurant, donating directly, spreading the word over social media, or volunteering.
Hall advises UVic students to get involved in these kinds of activities, and moreover, “take cool opportunities when you’re the age that you are, get involved in as much as you can, and see all the doors that you can open for yourself, and for the world. I left a really great job to work on this, and I’m really excited about what I’m doing, so don’t be afraid to take the leaps and try new things.”