In an effort to help those in need, a Winnipegger also ended up helping his own businesses during a province-wide lockdown.
On Sunday, November 1, 2020, Jay Kilgour was facing the knowledge the restaurants he owned would be closing their doors to the public once again that week.
"With the second lockdown looming on us the Sunday before the closure, I wasn't sure what we would be able to do," Kilgour says about his Fionn MacCool Regent and Grant Park locations.
In the spring when they had locked down earlier, a private donation was made so his restaurants could prepare meals for 1JustCity and Main Street Project. Kilgour had toyed with doing it again and began talking to Tessa Blaikie Whitecloud, then-executive director of 1JustCity, about it. The project instantly gained traction once he expressed interest on Facebook and Instagram.
Today our Fionn MacCools Crossroads kitchen made 150 lunches for @1justcity, 100 lunches for SCCOPE Inc., and 80 dinners will be going out later to @WestEnd247. All of this made possible by generous donations to the Fionn Food Fund! Happy Victoria Day everyone! pic.twitter.com/e83JmuClSC— Fionn’s Winnipeg (@fionnswpg) May 24, 2021
"We weren't going to launch the fund for a couple of weeks, but we decided because everything was going so viral and I was getting asked to comment on so many things that we started up," he says. "We get a lot of credit for this program, but really all we did was organize other people's generosity and save jobs and fed people. So it was survival mode for us but it also did some good."
After sending out emails, he says a significant amount of money was raised, "lighting a fire."
In one year, more than $303,000 has been raised, and more than 38,000 meals delivered to shelters across the city for people experiencing housing insecurity.
One year ago today, facing a closure I knew would last month's starting Nov. 2, 2020, we created the Fionn's Food Fund. To date we've raised $303,017.50 for @1justcity & turned it into meals for Wpg's under-loved. Can't thank everyone enough for supporting this project ❤️— Jay Kilgour (@JMKilgour) November 1, 2021
"Today felt really good," he says. "It feels nice that it doesn't seem like there is a lockdown looming over our heads for is winter."
How the program worked was 1JustCity collected donations on their website's Fionn Food Fund, using that to pay for a meal program. It wasn't until in September when Kilgour spoke to his old high school, Mennonite Brethren Collegiate Institute, that he realized these programs meant tens of thousands of meals went out to people in need. This also included a business donating meals to nurses during the pandemic, which became another program.
All of these efforts also let them keep their managers and many staff members.
"We were able to keep all of our salaried managers employed throughout the whole pandemic, a lot of our back of house kitchen staff, and some of our front-house staff too," he says, prioritizing staff needs when it came to layoffs. "It really showed me I had the right people working around me."
He says they have dialled back their efforts in the summer, but as the winter approached they will continue again, noting that they saved funds to deliver meals as it gets colder outside.
"I think that, no matter what, we need to be conscious of food insecurity, especially with prices rising on everything and wages not going up as much. It is going to continue to be a problem and we need to take care of each other."