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Tiny Home Takeout celebrates one year helping those in need

For the past year, the pay-what-you-can takeout restaurant launched by St. Mary’s Roman Catholic Church in downtown Kitchener has been providing those in need with free, restaurant quality food

When Tiny Home Takeout started, the team at St. Mary’s Roman Catholic Church just wanted to give back to the community by providing those in need with free and accessible restaurant-quality food. 

They expected, of course, that some people would benefit from the service. But their ‘grab a bite, give a bite’ model proved to be a hit, and in just one year, they have seen tremendous growth -- something head chef Amy Cyr says they never expected. 

“It started as a much smaller idea than what it is now,” Cyr said. “We were hoping that there would be some growth. But did any of us assume that it would be this big, this fast? No. But that’s always what you hope for. Because at the end of the day, our mission is to help as many people as we can.” 

Located in the church parking lot in downtown Kitchener, they run each night from 5 to 6:30 p.m., Tuesday through Saturday, serving everything from soup to pizza. In fact, Cyr said they have rarely repeated meals in the last 12 months, priding themselves on the variety they offer. 

They put limits on the number of servings customers can take, to ensure that “no matter who comes in, [they] have enough food to at least try to cover everybody who shows up.”

As such, they started out serving about 150 meals each night, but that number has steadily grown to about 600 a night, sometimes more, when the weather is warmer and more people are coming out.

They also do an additional 60 servings on Saturday, because they help with the overflow shelter at St. Andrew's Presbyterian Church. 
 
To keep up with demand, their team of volunteers has grown from around 30 individuals to about 150. 

Cyr said she thinks it’s grown so much because of the “huge” need in the community regarding food insecurity. 

“But I think a lot of the individuals who come are just happy to have a choice with what it is they're eating, being able to look at a menu and decide what it is that they're going to have instead of either being told,” she said.

“I think that we tried to carve a niche for ourselves that fit somewhere between a restaurant and a soup kitchen,” she said. “We want to encourage everybody to be able to come out, if they're able to donate, great, because our motto is grab a bite, give if you can. If they can't, we don't even bat our eyelashes at it. That's what we're here for.”

Another reason she thinks they’ve been so successful is that their unique model bridges class divisions.

“We have CEO's standing in line, we have mothers with their kids, we have families coming out, we have seniors on low income, we have the unsheltered, all of them mixed together in the line coming to grab a bite, because we're trying to serve restaurant quality food, but in a fashion that's available to all.”

In sum, she says, they’re serving food with dignity. 

With growing demand, they’ve already expanded their kitchen once, and are hoping to use the extra space to incorporate more baking, as well as, ideally, extra hands to help out.  

Currently they have co-op students from St. Mary’s working with them for an hour a day, four or three days a week. Cyr says she hopes more students will get involved over the next year,  as well as other parishes and organizations in the area.

“So we're hoping to just continue to grow and continue to open up to all of the other groups and organizations in the area that are looking to contribute. So it's a slow, steady growth. We do want to continue to keep in mind what the needs are, so that we can continue to accommodate and help in whatever way that we can,” she said. 

Cyr stressed that they are always looking for volunteers and donations to “keep doing what [they’re] doing.” You can find out more on their website
 

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