My name is Chef TJ Conwi, and since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, my team and I have been cooking meals from surplus food to distribute to local nonprofits in Vancouver. As word spread about what we were doing, and as restaurants and other food businesses were closing during the pandemic, we were able to turn this surplus food into healthy meals for so many in need in our city.
We have kept this meal program going for nearly two years on our own, and we currently support six nonprofits and their clients with 1,500 meals each week: YWCA (Crabtree Corner), Directions Youth Services, Aboriginal Front Door, Kilala Lelum, Health Initiative for Men, and Tamura House. To date, over 150,000 nourishing meals have gone to these six nonprofits that support some of the most vulnerable members of our community, including many who live on the Downtown Eastside, one of the poorest neighbourhoods in Canada.
We work in partnership with Vancouver Food Runners, a registered nonprofit collecting surplus food from businesses. Since 75% of the ingredients for these meals come from rescued food, we can keep the costs of this meal program incredibly low.
To keep this meal program going over the next six months, we hope to raise $1.50 for each meal. Our goal is to raise $32,400 to support our community. I have personally funded this program over the last two years, but I need some additional support to sustain this critical work. We need funding to purchase some food items, particularly protein and ingredients for sauces, and pay for staff to cook the meals.
We started this meal program as an emergency response during COVID-19, but it is apparent, given the lasting impact of the pandemic, as well as the rising cost of food and the affordability crisis in Vancouver, that food security continues to be an urgent issue. But I can no longer keep this program going on my own. A $25 donation would allow my team to create 16 healthy meals for those in need.
These meals have had such a positive impact on the nonprofit partners we work with:
May Kwan, Supervisor of Community Programs at YWCA Crabtree Corner :
“Chef TJ’s Team at Ono Vancouver has been a much appreciated and very tasty treat for our community at YWCA Crabtree Corner Community. The meals they send reach 100 participants three times a week during our daily free lunch program. Those attending include families living in our housing units, families attending our daycare, seniors, and folks hungry for a lunch. The community expresses excitement when they see delicious spring rolls or vegetarian curries served. The weekly meals we receive in-kind means we are not having to spend as much on cooking the daily meals, so some of the savings help to continue the much-needed Grocery Hamper Program sprung out of the pandemic. We are truly grateful for the ongoing support from Chef TJ and Ono Vancouver.”
Sylvia Elliot, Supervisor of Food Programs at Directions Youth Services :
“These meals feed 28-40 youth dinner, two nights per week. These meals are served from 8 -9 pm and are often the only proper meal the clients will have in a day. Since they receive about 150 meals per week, the rest are used for their youth in crisis program, which operates 24 hours per day. This low-barrier program allows youth to come inside, warm up, connect with an outreach worker, and receive a meal if they are interested. Directions Youth Services is also one of the City of Vancouver's Extreme Weather Resources, meaning that when it is below a certain temperature, Directions acts as a shelter for any unhoused individuals. Some of Chef TJ's meals are kept frozen and served to individuals who access this resource when needed.”
Please help us keep this meal program going so we can support Vancouver’s most vulnerable members: single mothers and their children, at-risk youth, Indigenous community members, and residents of the Downtown Eastside. Thank you!
In addition, the links below highlight some of the work our team has been doing since COVID-19 started. We help fight food insecurity by diverting tons of surplus food from the landfill and instead turning it into nutritious meals for so many.
- CBC: School food program adapts to pandemic by delivering harvest banquet
- Vancouver Sun: COVID-19: Food educators chefs pumping out thousands of meals for people in need
- Daily Hive: These talented chefs are using a surplus of food to feed those in need
- Tangerine: These six Canadians are making the country a better place
- Spotlight article by Vancouver Food Runners