10/17/2014 12:46 EDT | Updated 12/17/2014 05:59 EST

Turn dining out into helping out with Mealshare, which gives meals to needy

TORONTO - The next time you dine out, you could also do a good deed by providing a meal for someone else.

With Mealshare, every time a patron picks an item branded with the organization's logo from the menu of a participating restaurant, money is donated to charity.

Three young men from western Canada are the brains behind Mealshare, which launched in July 2013 with four partner restaurants. With Thursday's addition of four in Toronto, the organization has expanded to 84 partner restaurants in seven cities across the country. Nearly 114,000 meals have been served.

"Mealshare really is very, very simple at its core and really what it is is a buy one, give one concept and I really do think that's why it's been having so much success ... because customers can completely understand the concept and the promise we give our restaurant partners and their customers which is 'You see this meal in front of you, you're having this amazing experience and ... I know just because I picked the particular item off the menu that had a specific logo someone else is getting a meal as well.' That tangibility of that one for one is really apparent," said Derek Juno, vice-president of development for Mealshare.

There is no added cost to the customer. The restaurant contributes a small amount — about $1 — for every Mealshare item ordered to the organization. Customers who order a Mealshare item receive a thank-you card embedded with seeds that can be planted in a garden or windowsill pot.

"Half of our meals stay local in the city they're in and half the meals go internationally so not only will we be able to support the fight against hunger locally in our own backyard but we'll also be able to do it in places all over the world that really need our support," explained Juno.

Save the Children provides meals to children in schools in Africa on Mealshare's behalf. Juno said they have made a three-year commitment with the charity.

Last month, Mealshare launched at three establishments in Halifax. There are plans to start up next month in Lethbridge, Alta., as well as with a chain in western Canada with 62 locations.

"The social impact that we're having every added month is amazing," Juno said.

Co-founders Andrew Hall and Jeremy Bryant were working at multinational consulting and accounting firms and wanted to do more to give back to those less fortunate while Juno, who met Hall in business school, had been travelling for eight months in southeast Asia in 2012, where he spent some time teaching English at an orphanage and school in Cambodia. He too had been casting about for a way to provide financial sustainability for the organization he'd been working for.

As their idea was percolating, "we soon found out that eight million people dine out every single day in Canada and if we could get a small portion of those people eating Mealshare meals we could do amazing things," said Juno, who worked on the initiative full time upon his return to Vancouver from travelling. Hall, who also lives in Vancouver, and Bryant of Edmonton eventually quit their well-paying jobs to pursue Mealshare.

Juno acknowledged that for quite some time the initiative was a labour of love for the trio, who are all aged 25.

"We were doing it on a volunteer basis for about seven months and then we started taking a small honorarium just to keep the lights on and we've been really, really lucky that we've had so much support over the last 15 months that we've been able to grow really, really quickly."

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