Finding a way to leverage the restaurant industry and help feed people in need was the challenge Derek Juno and his partners set for themselves when they created Mealshare.
Barely two years in, the idea has caught on like Happy Hour or two-for-one appies and continues to grow, as restaurants around the country sign up for the program as a way to become more socially conscious.
Mealshare now has approximately 250 eateries signed up – there’s 16 in Greater Victoria and three on the West Shore – and recently hit a milestone by providing its 500,000th meal.
“For a little idea that came out of Victoria, it’s pretty amazing to know we’ve provided half a million meals to people in need,” says Juno, a former Colwood resident who now serves as the organization’s vice-president of business development. “It’s a pretty amazing feeling to know we have so much support in so many of our cities.”
The idea is simple: diners visit a participating restaurant and choose from several designated menu items. One dollar from the sale of those items goes to Mealshare, which donates funds to social service groups offering meals to the less fortunate.
Victoria-area restaurants have proven to be big supporters of the program, Juno says, pointing to the nearly 83,000 meals provided. For the most part, funds raised in a specific community stay in that community and help service providers do what they do best. The soup kitchen at Our Place, for example, is a beneficiary of Mealshare donations.
That local connection helps restaurateurs feel like they’re making a difference, Juno says.
“One thing we’re starting to see in our second year, is that this is a program our restaurant partners have become really proud of,” he says. “It turns the restaurant into a social enterprise, not just a regular business.”
One of those community partners is Floyd’s Diner, which is engaged in Mealshare at its Langford and downtown Victoria locations.
Floyd’s operations manager Michelle Boyd calls the program and its founders “amazing” and appreciates the ease with which her customers can participate in the program.
“I can’t believe their ingeniousness and their social entrepreneurship,” she says of Juno and co-founders Andrew Hall and Jeremy Bryant. “I think that the way they designed it, it doesn’t lay the burden on the person when they’re paying for their meal. There’s not the pressure (to donate) like there is sometimes at the checkstand.”
Boyd says diners have given nothing but positive feedback on the program and are happy the popular restaurant is involved. “People are really excited about it, and they’re happy that we’re happy to be a part of it.”
Juno, who was back in Victoria recently to check in with their area restaurant partners, said Ottawa and Montreal are the group’s next target markets, having broken into Calgary and Edmonton in a big way and added a number of prairie towns to the roster.
Mealshare has some heavy hitters on board for its current promotional campaign, called Road to One Million. Former Dragon’s Den panellists Arlene Dickinson and Brett Wilson, hockey stars Hayley Wickenheiser and Andrew Ference and Vancouver Mayor Gregor Robertson are among the celebrities who are using their star power on Twitter to help boost the numbers.
Having volunteered with area service providers numerous times, Juno enjoys seeing the impact a hot meal can have on someone.
“The meals are the handshake and they get people in the door. Once they get there, there are opportunities like counselling or job training. It’s great seeing these community members progress and make big changes in their lives.”