While the volunteers at Tiny Home Takeout are proud to celebrate two years in Kitchener, an influx of people this winter has shown an unprecedented need for affordable, accessible food.
Head Chef Amy Cyr never could have imagined the “grab a bite when you need, donate what you can” kitchen's success when it opened in February 2021.
“Honestly, when we started we said, ‘we know there are some people that need food, let's just aim for 100 pizzas and 100 bites, and let's see how it goes,” said Cyr. “And well, that lasted about three weeks, then all of a sudden word spread, the numbers started to grow, and they haven't stopped since.”
From Tuesday to Saturday, volunteers serve an average of 175 people a night during a 5:00 p.m. and 6:30 p.m. window, although this number is closer to 140 in the winter.
“Restaurants are great. They serve a large population. But, of course, if you don't have any money that's not going to work for you,” said Cyr. “We wanted to create a niche for ourselves where we could provide the food to everybody in the same fashion as a soup kitchen while trying to mimic the way a restaurant operates.”
While numbers traditionally decline during the colder seasons, Cyr has seen an extra 40 people a night on average this winter, which she believes demonstrates the increased need in the downtown core.
Despite their attempts to predict numbers, according to Cyr, this year's stats “have no rhyme or reason” and “don’t match anything they’ve seen” over the last three winters.
“The reality is that if you have the means, standing outside in the cold and waiting for your dinner might not be your first choice,” said Cyr. “In the summertime, it's like standing at a food truck but in the wintertime, I think that the number of people (we serve) who are in need rather than want, the numbers stay steady because of them.”
In 2022, 180,629 portions of food left the Tiny Home Takeout kitchen.
Serving 44,000 visitors total last year, while Cyr says the numbers don’t include where the food went once it was delivered by volunteers or picked up at the window, she estimates it would bring the total closer to 70-75,000 people.
“It's been really difficult to try and figure out how much food to make every day and so we've been trying to just shoot a little high to ensure that everybody who comes to us does get food,” said Cyr. “If we do have a surplus, it goes out to a shelter or with our Going Mobile KW volunteers.”
In May 2022, Tiny Home Takeout officially partnered with Going Mobile KW, a volunteer community outreach group providing support to unhoused people in Kitchener-Waterloo, to offer a nightly delivery of a nutritious meal.
The kitchen guarantees 100 “bites” a night, seven days a week, along with any leftovers from the Tiny Home Takeout production.
“Volunteers are definitely always needed. And of course, financial donations are always much appreciated,” said Cyr, who is always open to community input. “We very much have a family-style approach down here and we’ve built a safe space and a great culture for all the volunteers to come, be together, and do good.”
You can find out more information here.