A 'no brainer': Hamilton restaurants join Mealshare program to feed youth

The Mealshare program launched this week in Hamilton — meaning 11 local restaurants will now donate to youth charities each time you order certain items.

11 restaurants, 1 school lunch program will donate with certain orders

Customers at Mezcal Tacos and Tequila, one of the 11 local restaurants participating in the Mealshare program. (Laura Howells/CBC)

Eating at a Hamilton restaurant? You might soon be ordering for two.

The Mealshare program launched this week in Hamilton — meaning 11 local restaurants will now donate to youth charities each time you order certain items.

The idea is to give one meal for every meal sold, said Heather Laird, the program's community leader in Hamilton.

"We're trying to turn dining out into helping out," she said.

The participating restaurants will put a Mealshare logo next to certain menu items. Whenever a customer orders one of those dishes, the restaurant will give $1 to Mealshare — which then forwards 70 cents to local and international charities. 

In Hamilton, that money will be split between the local Boys and Girls Club dinner program and Save the Children Canada.

There are two Mealshare items on the menu at Mezcal Taco and Tequila Bar in downtown Hamilton, marked by the orange logo. (Laura Howells/CBC)

'Why not?'

"It's a no brainer," said Manny Ferreira, owner and chef at Mezcal Tacos and Tequila Bar. His restaurant started participating in the Mealshare program two months ago.

Ferreira knows what it's like to go hungry — he was once homeless himself.

"I never want to go back to that spot," said Ferreira, who already works with several charities.

"If we're doing well and can afford to give away, then why not?"

'Certainly' a need in Hamilton

Up to 75 children, youth and caregivers come to the Boys and Girls Club's gymnasium every weeknight for a free, healthy dinner.

The program is only getting bigger, said executive director Glenn Harkness, and Mealshare donations will help keep it going.

Funds from the Mealshare program go towards the Boys and Girls Club dinner program, which offers free meals five days a week. (Kelly Bennett/CBC)

Mealshare in 7 cities

Mealshare, a Canadian non-profit, started in Calgary in 2013 by cousins Andrew Hall and Jeremy Bryant. It now has a presence in Vancouver, Victoria, Edmonton, Toronto, Ottawa and Montreal and has provided funding for more than 2.8 million meals, said Laird.

"It just seemed to be Hamilton's time," said Laird, who hopes more restaurants will join in the future.

The other restaurants currently participating are Bliss Kitchen, Born and Raised, Lou Dawg's, Brux House, Kamoosh Bistro, West Avenue Cider, Merit Brewing, The Endzone Bar and Grill, Mill Street and 5, The American House and Taylor's Tea Room.

A school lunch program, The Lunch Lady, has also joined on.

$2,000 from one restaurant

At Born and Raised, a restaurant on James Street, they put the Mealshare option on the two "most popular dishes," said chef and owner Vittorio Colacitti.

Hunger is "one of our big concerns," he said. "This seemed like a more organized way of helping."

At Mezcal TNT, Ferraira also put the Mealshare logo next to two popular items: the churros and the chips and guac.

The restaurant has given away about $2,000 since starting two months ago — but that's "a drop in the bucket really," Ferreira said.

"What's $2,000 in two months? For me, I feel like we're not doing enough."