After earning their business degrees, cousins and best buddies Andrew Hall and Jeremy Bryant landed what many would consider to be dream jobs. Hall took on a consulting role at Deloitte, while Bryant was working as an auditor at PriceWaterhouseCoopers. Within a year, the Calgary natives both found themselves wanting more—and it wasn’t to climb higher up the corporate ladder.
Rather, the two wanted to do something that would help make the world a better place. Having both been raised by families that instilled in them the importance of gratitude and giving back, they ultimately zeroed in on the fact that so many people at home and abroad go hungry. In 2013 the two cofounded Mealshare, a social enterprise that provides a meal to someone in need for every meal purchased at a participating restaurant.
“We were raised with every opportunity and also with great values of being thankful for what we have and not taking things for granted,” the Vancouver-based Hall tells the Georgia Straight by phone. “We got the quote-unquote dream business jobs out of business school…but it wasn’t fulfilling for us. I liked what I was doing, but at the end of each day, was I making a difference? We wanted to do something together because we both had this feeling that we were so fortunate, we have the best lives, and how is it fair that we get to eat because of where we were born and who we were born to and that sort of thing…when so many other people aren’t that lucky? We hate the fact that there’s more than enough food in the world for everyone, but it’s not spread around properly and there’s a bunch of wasted food.”
They didn’t have a business model to follow but were inspired by Toms, the company that provides a pair of shoes to a child in need for every pair purchased. And they were motivated by stats like these: in Canada alone, almost a million people are “food insecure”, while more than eight million regularly dine out. Worldwide, approximately 795 million people do not have enough food to lead a healthy, active life, according to the United Nations World Food Programme.
“We want to live in a world where someday we’ll be in our rocking chairs explaining to our grandkids how hunger used to be a problem,” Hall says. “Hunger has been cut in half in the last 25 years.…We’re on the right track, but there are huge goals for it: ending it [hunger] by 2030. We can’t do it alone, but Mealshare is part of that equation. So that’s what’s driving us now.”
Here’s how it works. With operations in Edmonton, Calgary, Vancouver, Victoria, Halifax, and Toronto, as well as smaller communities, Mealshare partners with restaurants and local and international charities for its “buy one, give one” model. Just as some restaurants carry an Ocean Wise logo on their menu to indicate sustainable-seafood choices, those participating in Mealshare stamp its logo on certain menu items. For every one of those dishes that a diner orders, the resto donates money to Mealshare, which then distributes the funds to groups like Save the Children (which is currently providing meals on the organization’s behalf to kids in Mali) and Vancouver’s Mission Possible, which helps people struggling with poverty and homelessness here.
Hall says the organization strives to work with charities that do more than just give out food—ones that also provide shelter, education, aid getting jobs, and other services that help people make lasting changes in their lives.
The program works, he says, because it’s easy for people to participate and it provides them with a tangible way to give back.
“It’s more engaging than having two dollars taken off your grocery bill,” Hall says. “We’ve found that this is something that restaurant owners have been wanting for a while. They want to give back and often give away gift cards or cash, but they’ve never had this kind of integrative program in their restaurants yet. It involves their customers and their staff, and it happens every day.
“Sometimes staff members come to the charities to give out the meals,” he adds. “It gets people talking.”
Fable Restaurant executive chef Trevor Bird didn’t have to think twice before signing on. “It was an easy decision, and it’s a very successful campaign,” Bird tells the Straight. “It’s effortless on our part, and people respond well. The only thing in it for Fable is to make us feel good and to contribute to society.”
Other Vancouver restaurants that are onboard include Farmer’s Apprentice, Bambudda, Bestie, the Acorn, the Oakwood Canadian Bistro, the Union, the Portside Pub, Yak & Yeti Bistro, and Gurkha Himalayan Kitchen.
Across the country, Mealshare has 200 participating restaurants, but it’s aiming to add many, many more.
“There is tons of room to grow, and we’d like to make it a staple in most restaurants across the country,” Hall says, noting that perhaps one day the organization will take root in the United States and other parts of the world. “The sky is the limit. There’s no reason this can’t be up and running in any city that has restaurants.”
Mealshare is having a fundraiser on October 22 at the Portside Pub (7 Alexander Street) called Music Feeds the Kids, featuring local indie-rock bands Little India, BESTiE, and Ark & Ocean. It’s raising funds to feed 2,000 Vancouver schoolkids breakfast for a week. For details, visit www.mealshare.ca/music.