Over 1,600 meals provided through Tommy’s Sharing the Caring program

Restaurant owner Tommy Hunter (right) and friend Jessie Colwin prepare meals for Kingston’s hungry as part of a community outreach program launched during the pandemic. Supplied Photo.

A Kingston restaurant owner and his community partners have provided over 1,600 meals to Kingston’s most vulnerable since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic through a program he calls ‘Sharing the Caring.’

Tommy Hunter, owner of Tommy’s Diner and Smoke ‘N’ Barrel, said he started preparing take-out meals for Kingston’s hungry as he was cleaning out his kitchens at the start of the COVID-19 lockdown.

“We let our staff come grocery shopping first,” Hunter said, “but we still had a lot of food left.” The restaurants had been fully stocked for what was expected to be a busy St. Patrick’s Day week when the COVID-19 lockdown shuttered restaurants across Canada, mid-March.

Hunter had a particular surplus of fresh eggs, so he said the first thing he made was a batch of fried egg sandwiches and quiches. He and a colleague headed out in his truck looking for people in need of meals.

“The goal was to get the meals to what we call Kingston’s ‘ultra-vulnerable,’” Hunter said. “So that’s people who may not be able to get to a shelter, or to line up for a meal at Martha’s Table for a variety of reasons.” However, Hunter said, though he knew the need existed, the individuals were surprisingly hard to find.

Not deterred from the concept, he contacted Home Base Housing, a local non-profit that runs street outreach programs, to ask if they would help distribute some meals. They agreed and, with that, the Sharing the Caring program was born.

Hunter sends out 40 meals per week, delivered Tuesdays and Fridays. The name speaks to the partnership between local business sponsors, who pay for the meals, the restaurant staff and volunteers preparing them, and Home Base Housing getting them out. Business sponsors pay $100 to provide a full day of meals, while restaurant patrons can add a $5 donation to their take-out order and pitch in a serving.

Hunter said community response to the program has been dramatic.

In May, just two weeks after he’d opened his barbecue restaurant in the west end, Hunter said he was contacted by his friend and regular supporter Erin Finn on behalf of the Kingston Area Real Estate Association (KAREA). They offered to blitz the program, delivering 1,000 meals in just 10 days. It was exhausting, Hunter said, but he found willing recruits to assist from across his businesses, as well as family and friends.

He also anticipates being able to run the program indefinitely. “Every week after I do my post on Facebook,” describing the day’s delivery and naming the sponsor, “typically I get donations for the next week,” he said.

Now back to his regular 40-meal per week schedule, Hunter said he’s booking sponsors for meal days two months ahead.

“I’ve learned over the years that it doesn’t take much to get people to help out with a good cause,” he said. Hunter hosts a variety of charitable initiatives every year, including an annual summer bike wash and a massive Community Christmas Dinner, which both delivers and serves in-house holiday meals to those in need on Christmas Eve.

“Just put up a Facebook post, get the word out and make it easy for people,” he said.

Samantha Butler-Hassan, Local Journalism Initiative

Samantha Butler-Hassan is a staff writer and life-long Kingston resident. She is a news junkie and mom who loves reading and exploring the community. This article has been made possible with the support of the Local Journalism Initiative.

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