The owner of a Toronto eatery offers a unique way for customers to help feed those in need and build a strong community – all for less than $4.
#ImmigrationMatters in Toronto, Ontario
Feeding it forward – 1 sandwich at a time
When David Bator goes into Baguette & Co. to pick up lunch on a workday, he usually buys 4 items: his own lunch, and 3 meal tags. The tags get pinned to a board at the front of the restaurant. When someone else comes in needing a meal but can’t afford to buy one, they can take a tag and exchange it for food, no questions asked.
The tags, which cost $3.75, are worth half the cost of a typical sandwich or salad; the restaurant contributes the other half.
Lynn Kwon, who owns Baguette & Co., says most days at least half a dozen customers buy tags – but there are also groups who buy 50 or 100 at a time in support of the restaurant’s “feed it forward” program. That’s a lot of free meals for the restaurant to match, but Lynn isn’t concerned as long as they break even.
Lynn came to Canada in 1987 as a Vietnamese refugee and feels it’s important to give back to the city that supported her.
“There were 8 of us in a small apartment”, she says. “My parents worked so hard to get established. Now that I’m in a position to be able to give something back, it’s important to me”.
Baguette & Co. is located in The Junction, a gentrifying West Toronto neighbourhood, and includes a take-out counter plus seating for 16. It specializes in baguette sandwiches, soups and salads with a Vietnamese or Korean influence.
“If you want to solve world hunger, pick a street”
“To Lynn, everyone is a customer. She looks people in the eye and is polite, pleasant and welcoming to everyone who comes in, regardless of their circumstances. Her “feed it forward” program addresses the need for people to be seen and validated. With it, she has made a long-term commitment to this community”.
– David Bator, Vice President of client strategy, TemboSocial
Most weeks, about 25 tags are used – more at the beginning and end of the month, and in colder weather. People who use the tags may be living (or working) on the streets nearby, or sometimes, simply unexpectedly find themselves unemployed.
“As a neighbourhood gentrifies, like this one, there are people who are marginalized”, notes David, who works at a software company in the area. “Drugs and prostitution are pretty big problems. And a meal may not fix those problems, but people have needs, and chief among them, regardless of what other problems you might have, is a good meal”.
Baguette & Co. patrons have noted that the tag system solves a number of problems related to making food donations. It skirts the issues involved in donating cash on the street, since the only thing that can be exchanged for a tag is a meal. Secondly, Lynn notes, there is dignity in being able to exchange a tag for food of your choosing.
For Lynn, contributing meals to the community is not only a way to give back, but to connect.
“Food is something that brings people together”, she says. “A meal is where we share common ground. I think we are removing a barrier, allowing community members to connect with someone who needs help”.
Immigration profile: Toronto, Ontario (Census Metropolitan Area)
- Immigrants in the Toronto area represent almost half (46%) of the population.
- India is the biggest source country of immigrants to the Toronto area, followed by China and the Philippines.
- Half of all immigrants who came to the Toronto area between 1980 and 2016 were economic immigrants, more than a third (34%) were sponsored by family and 15% were refugees.
Did you know?
- The Toronto area has the biggest immigrant population in the country.
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