Winnipeg eateries are seeking to ensure customers who can’t afford their menu offerings can still dine at their establishments with dignity.
A growing number of local establishments are launching pay-it-forward programs to cater to patrons of all incomes. Customers at SFC Pizzeria (120 Salter St.), Eadha Bread (577 Ellice Ave.) and Hildegard’s Bakery (686 Portage Ave.) now have the opportunity to pitch in a few dollars for future patrons who can’t.
"We have a little sign next to a jar of buttons, and anyone can either buy a button to place in the jar or anyone can take a button from the jar to redeem it for either coffee or a muffin," said Michael Harms, one of three co-owners of Hildegard’s Bakery in West Broadway.
One week after it was placed, there are two dozen buttons of varying sizes and colours in the jar.
The goal is to be responsible neighbours, he said.
The entrepreneur said he recognizes they moved into a gentrifying neighbourhood in 2018, and want to make sure they’re servicing all members of their community — including those who may not typically enter the artisan bakery for organic loaves and specialty pastries.
As well, he’d heard about other entrepreneurs’ initiatives, such as the board of bakery items at Eadha Bread, a few blocks north in the West End.
"We think of it as our duty because we’re taking up space in an expensive product store where people are lower income. We believe it’s the duty of people who have the means to share resources with people who don’t. We reject this idea of charity and benevolence in that kind of way," said Melody Malakooti, affectionately known as the "bakery mama" inside the neon yellow Ellice Avenue storefront.
"This is our moral obligation."
At Eadha Bread, customers can choose an amount to donate and that sum goes towards an item posted on its community board. Take a $4 donation, for instance, which covers a coffee cake, chocolate cake, cinnamon bun or hand pie. Anyone can stop by and take off a tack to use a voucher.
It’s similar to the SFC Pizzeria model, in which customers pay for an extra slice and the coupon goes up as a sticky-note that others can redeem.
Malakooti said the West End pay-it-forward program has grown to include donations made online and via email. While it has been well received on both ends, Eadha Bread is struggling to keep up with demand.
"It allows a lot of customers who can’t afford our product, who have lived here longer than our product, to access our food," Malakooti said. "I think that’s really important for folks to have a safe place to come and take a moment."
Maggie Macintosh reports on education for the Winnipeg Free Press. Funding for the Free Press education reporter comes from the Government of Canada through the Local Journalism Initiative.