Mealshare: Giving Never Tasted This Good

Mealshare logo

“Finish your food, there are starving kids,” my parents would scold. As a child I insensitively retorted, “Well, then send them this.”  As I’ve grown, the notion of people starving continues to haunt me. So, when Mealshare was announced, their concept of eat-a-meal to share-a-meal seemed ingenious. The model is simple: order a specially marked dish at a participating restaurant, and they’ll donate $1 to fund a meal for the needy.

Andrew Hall, co-founder of Mealshare, recounts that his parents also instilled in him the value of appreciating food. After graduating from university with business degrees and working in the corporate world, he and his cousin, Jeremy Bryant, realized their lives had to be more than the day-to-day grind. How could they use their entrepreneurial spirit and do something impactful? Inspired by Tom’s Shoes’ concept of buy-a-pair, give-a-pair, they decided to help through food.

Mealshare was started in February 2013. Andrew says that finding the first partners was the hardest. It took various methods and attempts before they could reach someone. Being new to the industry, they also contacted chefs at inconvenient times further exasperating the situation.    
Eventually, four like-minded restaurants in Calgary and Edmonton signed up, and Mealshare launched in July 2013. Their reach quickly expanded, and there are now programs in Cowichan Valley, Vancouver, Victoria, Halifax, Lethbridge and Toronto.

Toronto’s launch happened organically: Café Belong, Hawthorne, Khao San Road and Nana reached out directly to implement it at their restaurants. Seeing interest, Mealshare established a dedicated group, expanding its Toronto outlets to 18 establishments (Pizzeria Libretto, Richmond Station, Terroni, etc.) and officially launching on May 2015. Nicole Tupechka, Toronto’s Community Leader, is excited about the supporters. It was curated through suggestions and recruiting to ensure a well-rounded selection.

Mealshare donates locally and globally. International supports goes to Save the Children, which provides meals to schools in Mali, Africa, allowing students to attend school (forgoing their need to work) and ensures concentration by not being hungry.

Each city also supports a local not-for-profit based on need and their mandates. Andrew Hall notes that, if an organization is already well-funded, it’s not a candidate for Mealshare. And they need to do more than just donate food: there should be a support element such as offering education.
Toronto meals are donated to The Parkdale Activity and Recreation Centre (PARC)’s drop-in centre. It’s a place they don’t require diners to provide a lot of information so as to note scare them off. Some diners start to help out in kitchen, gaining experience to help secure permanent jobs.

Representatives from Save the Children and PARC
Nicole Tupechka recalls her first visit to PARC with restaurant representatives as a great way to see firsthand what their donations meant. She volunteers there two days a week, cooking based on available ingredients.  The only stipulations are that meals must have minimum calories, ensuring individuals receive enough energy from the two daily meals, and there’s a vegetarian option.
She loves volunteering and thinks serving diners is a great idea. “It’s just a dignified experience for them rather than having to line up for meals.”

Andrew Hall recounts his proudest moment when he helped serve the first 1,000 meals Mealshare funded. Additionally, being able to use his business expertise to help others makes him happy. Project management and presentation skills translate from corporate boardrooms to kitchens.
It’s that wistful dream we all have: do something we love and help others. With more articles promoting corporate marketers turned ice cream scoopers, it almost makes me want to give notice. 

Hall doesn’t regret the time spent in consulting. “I definitely advocate starting a business while you’re young. But, taking a couple of years to work at a good company is important too.”

It’s more than restaurateurs advocating Mealshare, popular Toronto blogger Abbey Sharp became their Toronto ambassador. “I love getting involved with local food not-for-profits.” Sharp explains, “So, I jumped at the chance to share what I knew about Toronto restaurants and [provide] contacts.” Having eaten at a number of the participants, her favourites include Pizzeria Libretto, Richmond Station and Glory Hole Doughnuts.   

Mealshare's Toronto ambassador: Abbey Sharp
I’ve had Libretto’s Mealshare dish: duck confit pizza. The salty oiliness of the duck mixed with softened sweet pear on their signature chewy blistered crust is heavenly. How is helping so delicious?

Mealshare’s website transparently posts statistics on donated meals in total, by city, and by partner. With over 250,000 meals shared, Andrew wants to continue expanding the program. “We have big dreams!” he proudly proclaims and hopes to go global. A volunteer kit is also being developed to help individuals within smaller cities approach establishments and increase Mealshare’s presence past metropolitan areas.

“Anytime you buy something, you’re voting with your dollar.” Hall says. In this capitalistic world, diners can certainly influence the industry’s involvement with programs like Mealshare. “If we can turn capitalism into a more socially conscious vehicle,” he says, “we can create positive change.”

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