WA Good Food Guide is delighted to announce 5000 Meals as its charity partner for 2021. Founded in 2012 by Cath MacDougall, the program’s goals are at once wide-reaching and targeted, ranging from education and reducing food waste to engaging local chefs and producers and, ultimately, providing meals to those who need them.

Each goal has its own merits, but, MacDougall says, it’s the whole that fuels the initiative. “It’s a win-win on so many levels. You’ve got the hospitality industry engaging in schools and communicating about the industry. You’ve got kids understanding the power of their work and that they can make a difference, and then there’s the community benefit as well,” she says. “There’s not many programs where you have so many layers and fabulous outcomes.”

The program works firstly through students – most often school students engaged in hospitality. Through 5000 Meals, they work with a range of chefs, teachers and mentors cooking meals from donated produce – often from organisations like Second Bite or Foodbank, or direct from producers or suppliers – that are then distributed to the community. For students, there’s a chance to learn about volunteering, as well as to gain experience alongside industry.

The program has also seen a rise in chefs keen to give back during the coronavirus shutdown – recent volunteers include Rohan Park, Chase Weber and Shane Middleton of Fleur at The Royal, and Caroline Taylor from Taylors Art & Coffee House. They also serve to give kids a view into the industry. “Who better to ask questions?” says MacDougall. “From what knives do you have and where do you buy them to where did you start your job, how much did you get paid, what were the hurdles, and how did you feel about split shifts and 7-day weeks?”

The biggest outcome, though, is the promise of a good meal for those who need it. Typically this has been the homeless, but during shutdown that extended to the elderly, victims of domestic violence, international students and Aboriginal communities. In the past, 5000 Meals has also been able to bring in international visa holders to bring give their own insights, and give them some meals and produce to take home. “They also bring another level of authenticity and professionalism, as well as that element that the hospitality industry isn’t always doom and gloom and split shifts and varicose veins – it’s also about travel and meeting different people and experiencing food and wine and drink from all around the world,” says MacDougall.

Partnering with WAGFG, that avenue for working alongside chefs and with WA’s outstanding producers is one that looks a little bit wider. “I think it’s going to be a massive opportunity to promote hospitality students in schools, expand the network of chefs that are involved in the program, and definitely WA produce,” says MacDougall. “It’s a win-win all round.”

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