A charity to sink your teeth into

Scott Walmsley, chef at the Old Fork Restaurant, which is one of four restaurants participating in the Mealshare program.  - Kathy Santini
Scott Walmsley, chef at the Old Fork Restaurant, which is one of four restaurants participating in the Mealshare program.
— image credit: Kathy Santini

Most people are so busy doing everything that's necessary to keep a life going — working, making dinner, supervising homework and carpooling the kids — that they don't have the time to do the things they'd like to do.

Things like contributing financially or time wise to the groups and causes they'd like to support.

A new program, called Mealshare, is making that a little bit easier to do.

Come July 10, five restaurants in the Cowichan Valley — Rusticana, Bad Habits, Hudson's on First, The Old Fork and the Shipyard — will identify a number of their menu items as part of the Mealshare program.

One dollar from the cost of each designated dish will be given to Mealshare. Of that, the non-profit, which has been running for almost a year, will delegate about 70% to the Canadian Mental Health Association's-Warmland House homeless shelter with a small portion of that going to Save the Children Canada.

James Tousignant, Warmland House's manager, said his organization was contacted by Blair Howard, who's on the outreach committee for Shawnigan Lake's Sylvan United Church.

"They had heard about the Mealshare program and they door-knocked from Mill Bay to Ladysmith to see if there was any interest from local restaurants," Tousignant said. "It's a wonderful story, Blair's group did all the legwork, they opened up a lot of doors."

Tousignant said Mealshare usually searches for partner restaurants, but in this case it was a committed group of volunteers who did the work.

Joan Keith-Burgwin, the church's team leader, said it all came about after Howard learned about Mealshare from the internet.

"Warmland had come to us asking for help and we said we couldn't because we had a tiny budget," Keith-Burgwin said. "After Blair found Mealshare, he said, 'This is fabulous, this is how we can get Warmland more money.'"

After meeting with Warmland staff, Tousignant said they had a second meeting with co-founder Andrew Hall, who was persuaded by their enthusiasm, even though the Cowichan area is smaller than the communities they usually launch in.

Mealshare, in a little less than a year says it has already provided over 50,000 meals to people in need in Vancouver, Victoria, Edmonton and Calgary.

Co-founder Jeremy Bryant said he and his cousin Hall were like many Canadian kids, who grew up in nice houses. They didn't want for much.

"We started travelling and it was a real eye opener, we saw people who couldn't afford to eat, that seemed crazy given how we grew up," Bryant said. "It struck both of us that we should do something about it."

Both keen volunteers, they quickly realized while volunteering in Alberta and Victoria that, "hunger wasn't over there, it impacts people in Canada too."

Nick Both, general manager of The Old Fork said a similar concept had been on his radar for about six months before he was approached. The decision wasn't hard to make.

"It's important to give back to your community both locally and nationally," he said. His establishment plans to put the Mealshare logo besides one or two breakfast items and one or two from lunch.

Keith-Burgwin said she hopes that once more restaurants hear about the program, they'll join too.

While Tousignant said he had no idea how much additional funding the program will bring to his organization, it will all help fund the 70 breakfast and supper meals his organization serves and the additional 50 on the days it serves lunch.

"It's just wonderful for us, we're hoping more restaurants come on board."

If you're a restaurant owner who would like to be a partner in the Cowichan Valley's Mealshare program, visit:

Your ticket

What: Mealshare launch

When: July 10, 5-7 p.m

Where: The Old Fork Restaurant, 140 Trans Canada Highway, Duncan

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