The Edmonton Coordinated Youth Response

In May 2020 the City of Edmonton was in lockdown due to the COVID-19 pandemic and the EXPO Centre was opened to support adults experiencing housing instability in their isolation and pandemic needs. Immediately, youth-servicing agencies noticed a significant gap in pandemic supports for youth aged 15–25.

The indoor public spaces and buildings that young people accessed during the day were no longer accessible, public transit was unavailable, and they were prohibited from being outside in public spaces. To further limit support for them, many agencies were closing for weeks at a time with quarantines. It was clear that much stronger collaboration and communication was needed to support youth in crisis during this time and in September 2020, YESS co-launched the Edmonton Coordinated Youth Response with our youth agency partners, Boyle Street Community Services and iHuman Youth Society.

The Edmonton Coordinated Youth Response (CYR) is a growing group of youth-serving agencies across the city committed to ensuring that young people receive timely, trauma-informed access to basic needs, pandemic support, and same-day virtual connections to other agencies. Through the CYR online platform, young people can access food, shelter, clothing, and housing connections from various agencies as well as access screening, testing, and safe isolation.

The CYR includes youth-serving agencies, schools, and secondary service partners such as Children’s Services and the Edmonton Police Service (EPS). In January 2021, the Edmonton Coordinated Youth Response was given an Indigenous name by Elder Kokum Rose Wabasca: kanaweyim oskayak (pronounced CAN-ah-WEEM oh-SKY- YAK), which means “taking care of the youth.” And, as of February 2021, young people can access or get information on kanaweyim oskayak by texting or calling 211. The Coordinated Youth Response, kanayweim oskayak, is also a pilot project to practice coordination and integration between agencies within our Youth Agency Collaboration (YAC) work to build a long-term, city-wide plan for a collaboration, integrated network of care model for the prevention of youth homelessness.

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National Philanthropy Day: No Room in the Inn

For National Philanthropy Day 2020 we nominated The REALTORS® Community Foundation, Ledcor Group, Collin and Janel Bruce, No Room in the Inn, and Hillcrest Junior High to recognize their incredible support of YESS!

No Room in the Inn

Since 1999, the Edmonton & District Council of Churches has sponsored an ecumenical Christmas fundraising initiative called No Room in the Inn. Each year, church congregations and individuals from many denominations join together to provide financial support to a housing provider for the homeless or people at risk in the Edmonton Capital Region. The annual campaign raises from $40,000 to $70,000. Over the years, the project has raised (cumulatively) over $1 million from the community for twenty different housing projects in the Capital Region! Rooted in values central to Christian faith and identity, their annual campaign expresses to vulnerable persons in our community that they are loved and cared about as valued members of our society. YESS was awarded funds from their 2018 campaign to completely renovate the bathrooms in our Whyte Avenue Nexus program to provide a cleaner environment with increased privacy and dignity. This will help the traumatized youth assisted by YESS to understand they are important and to help them integrate back into the community. Thank you to each member of the Edmonton & District Council of Churches for your generous support!


“No Room In The Inn is a Christmas fundraising initiative sponsored by the Edmonton and District Council of Churches. The name, drawn from the biblical story of Christ’s birth in a stable, reflects our focus on creating or improving housing for those in need. We often support small renovation projects for groups that might otherwise not be able to afford them. EDCC has long been aware of the good work that YESS performs in the community, and we were especially taken with the request from YESS knowing what a significant benefit they would receive from our relatively modest contribution.”

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Thank You to Southview Acura

Thank you to the team at Southview Acura for their commitment and continuous support for our youth.

Their dedication to give back has been essential in creating opportunities for our youth to be integrated back into the community.

Thank you to Southview Acura for your generosity and leadership.

Tell us why you choose to support YESS?

We choose to support YESS as we believe ending homelessness in our community starts with ensuring our youth receive the support and services they need to be successful young adults and integrate into our community. YESS’ mission “To walk beside traumatized youth on their journey towards healing and appropriate community integration” deals with the underlying issues by helping young people find a stable and secure environment to heal. We believe this is a crucial step towards a sustainable and healthy lifestyle.

How does Southview Acura give back to the community?

Every year Southview Acura selects several charities that are near and dear to our hearts. Through monetary donations or by collecting supplies we do our best to support our community. This year we have been lucky enough to support Big Brother and Big Sisters, SCARS, Edmonton Food Bank, Basically Babies, Little Warriors, and The Christmas Bureau.

Why is it important for Southview Acura to support the community?

The community of Edmonton and surrounding area have been extremely loyal and supportive of Southview Acura for many years. Our clients are truly the most caring and hard-working people. It is our privilege to give back to the community.

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Thank You to The Orange Door Summer 2021 Campaign!

Thank you to the Orange Door Campaign for raising over $74,000 in support of Youth Empowerment and Support Services. We’re incredibly grateful for the Home Depot Canada Foundation and the local Home Depot Edmonton stores leading the way to end youth homelessness in Canada.

Words cannot express how much we appreciate the community support in donating $2 at the till and making a difference. 

Thank you for being part of the community walking beside youth on their journeys towards healing!


Home Depot Clareview
Home Depot Sherwood Park
Home Depot Skyview
Home Depot South Edmonton Common
Home Depot Strathcona
Home Depot West End
Home Depot Westmount
Home Depot Whitemud
Home Depot Windermere

Home Depot Clareview

Home Depot Skyview

Home Depot Strathcona

Home Depot West End

Home Depot Westmount

Home Depot Whitemud

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Donor Spotlight: Judith Dyck and James Flett

Isn’t it true that our lives are rife with the unexpected and filled with surprises. And as our story is written, within those fulsome pages is a powerful commonality that we all share. What stands out the most isn’t necessarily the emotions associated with our greatest joys or our most heartbreaking sorrows. It is who was there to support us.   

Long-time annual donors, Judith Dyck and James Flett, so beautifully speak of the two-fold gift that can be found within the wise help and loving support provided to youth along their life’s journey. No young person’s life should be consumed by worry, the loss of potential, or the loss of their dreams, along life’s long tale of the complicated and unpredictable. What a privilege and opportunity that presents itself when a young person finds the courage and wisdom to reach out for support! We are all, whether by happenstance or design, a part of someone’s yesterday, today, and tomorrow. 


From Judith and James

We are long time Edmonton residents—James grew up here and I moved from Manitoba over 40 years ago. Our lives are rooted in a deep love of family, place, and community. Our two sons are in their early twenties and through them, their friends, and our own experiences, we know transitioning to adulthood can be tough.

Caring is a part of being human and to be able to give is a blessing. Our focus in giving is helping people build resilience and strong families. Sometimes it seems that society looks at people in silos—some are sick, so we give to hospitals. Others are hungry, so we give to the food bank. But really, they’re the same people. So our hope is that there’s a continuum of support for people in need, from crisis nursery to youth services to support for young parents.

Through working with Kids Kottage, a crisis nursery in Edmonton, we saw first-hand how hard people try to support their families. If people are struggling and aren’t able to create the families they’d like to, children can miss out. As these children become adults, they are left to knit together their lives on their own.

And thus YESS. YESS provides a place and a warm heart for youth—all youth—in need. It relies heavily on donors. We tend to give annually without designating where the funds are to be used. YESS knows its needs and uses donations wisely.

If there’s one thing we would like people to understand about youth using the services of YESS, it is that they are no more or less gifted or worthy than our own children. They’ve just had to travel a different road. They are deserving of unconditional love and support in reaching adulthood.

A few years ago we toured YESS and saw this on the wall:

“Courage does not always roar. Sometimes courage is a quiet voice at the end of the day that says, I’ll try again tomorrow.”

YESS gives young people the space to hear that voice and keep trying. And to succeed.



Thank you for caring so deeply about the work that YESS does and for the profound difference that your gift will help to make in the life story of so many young people!  

Your donation will be used to support the wide-ranging and life-changing needs of our youth, as our donors would so rightly expect:  Programs and services to address trauma, addiction and mental health challenges, to establish or rebuild life skills and strengthen resilience, to ensure access to healthy food, welcoming, safe shelter –and crucially- healing, recovery, and future vision.

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Into the Future

Tessa has been involved in the humanities field for 22 years. Her passion is to help high risk youth reach their goals by helping them navigate around the barriers in their lives and build essential life skills. This passion is what brought her to work for Youth Empowerment & Support Services, where she serves as Manager of the Shelter Programs, including the Nexus 24/7 sleep shelter, the Armoury Resource Centre, and the Cohort Independent Living Program. Tessa believes that collaboration is key to ending systemic homelessness across the city. Tessa received the Commonwealth Gold Medal Award from Canada’s Lieutenant General for her work with the Youth Restorative Action Project.  

Over the past 18 months, there have been many adjustments and innovations made in YESS programs. Even looking back to pre-pandemic times, why is it important for youth-serving agencies to be flexible and open to change? 

Adaptability has always been an important part of our frontline services. The youth themselves are constantly changing, and as some move on and new youth move in, this creates a shift in both trends and needs which are both influenced by a lot of factors. One year we might be seeing a big push for gang recruitment in the area and we need to pivot our efforts towards a safety and risk-focused programming in mind, another year we might see a spike in interest for going back to school and we pivot towards a stability focus that will drive success there. 

The pandemic for us wasn’t an exception to this, but it is a perfect example of what flexibility really means for us. When the pandemic first hit, one of the most urgent issues was that individuals experiencing homelessness suddenly had fewer places to physically be, in the middle of winter. Malls were closed, libraires were closed, all of the safe spaces to loiter simply weren’t accessible anymore. We knew that we immediately needed to modify our operating hours to be 24/7 between our day and night programs so that youth had a space to just exist safely. We also anticipated that there would be many new youth coming through our doors for the first time, with the closures of schools and many people losing jobs. High stress + nowhere to escape to = a breaking point in some households that were already struggling. This is exactly what we saw, a spike in new clients who very likely would never have been in our service if the pandemic had not caused this tipping point to happen. In other words, a spike in clients who were very much not prepared for life on the streets. The population shifts, external risks shift, community supports shift… it’s a fluid environment and we need to remain fluid in order to provide the best version of support for the youth who need us today.  



How do youth-serving agencies impact not just youth’s futures, but also the future of the wider community? 

A single youth does not exist in a bubble, they have family and friends, they go to school and have jobs, they pass by and interact with many people—just like we all do. They are a part of our community. Pain and suffering are not siloed, when any member of our society struggles it affects us all. Sometimes this is in very direct ways, like when someone who is struggling with severe addictions becomes desperate enough to rob a stranger. Sometimes it’s in more subtle ways, like the high cost of emergency physical and mental health interventions for people experiencing homelessness, and this affects the public budgets which we all pay for. What if we can prevent the residual trauma of events like that community member being robbed by having addictions programs ready and available? What if we can prevent the enormous cost of emergency services for homeless individuals by spending far less money on meaningful prevention and interruption of homelessness?  

If we help meet the needs of our most vulnerable, then we lift the entire community at the same time.  


Based on the changes you have seen in the youth sector during your career, in what ways do you think this work will continue to evolve, either in the broader sector or specifically at YESS? 

I hope to see the sector as a whole pulling away from methods that institutionalize youth. We need more services that directly aim to end chronic underlaying issues that cause cyclical homelessness. We can’t simply have shelters and independent housing—we need to focus on the transitional programs that fit in-between those two points. Programs that build life skills, that offer support rather than coddling, that guide rather than control, programs that create an environment where autonomy and self-reliance can grow and thrive, programs that promote healthy integration into community. ­­­­­­­­­ 

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Holding the Present

Marcia trained as a psychotherapist with over 20 years’ experience working with youth and their families, five years of which has been spent in Edmonton working with youth who are homeless. She is motivated by her love for youth and seeks to find ways in joining them on their journeys in pursuit of healing. Her strengths include the ability to bear witness to the experience of others, facilitate containment of others, and collaborate with others in the exploration of their strengths. 

YESS has made trauma-informed care a focus in all programs. Can you speak to how this has impacted the youth experience at YESS, and how this focus has evolved in the years that you have worked at YESS?

Trauma-informed practice speaks to the integration and understanding of past and current experiences of trauma into all aspects of the work we do for the populations that we serve. Our staff at YESS receive trauma-informed care training and are therefore aware of the high prevalence of trauma in our society and the wide range of responses, effects, and adaptations that people make to cope with their trauma. As we continue to mediate these experiences of our youth through our relationship-building, creating connections, and facilitating healthy attachments, there continues to be a rise in youth safety levels, as is demonstrated in increased access our services, ease in inhabiting our spaces, and opening up and connecting with staff.


How does access to therapy and trauma-informed support impact youth in their current circumstances as well as into their futures?

Therapy sessions utilise a strength-based approach, helping youth discover their authentic selves, their abilities, and resources, and employ them to build and improve their coping strategies so they can better respond to cues and emotions associated with traumatic events. Therapy also provides an opportunity for youth to explore their thoughts, feelings, and patterns of behavior, and learn new coping techniques to better manage the daily stressors and symptoms they experience. Some of these skills include relaxation strategies, self-regulation, and anxiety management. Trauma-informed support emphasises working collaboratively to deliver optimum services, as well as offering chances for choice in programs, which promote empowerment, and the prospect for healthy attachment. The trauma-informed support we provide at YESS also promotes resiliency building, as we seek to improve the protective factors in the lives of our youth.


How does the ever-widening conversation of mental health affect the youth as well as the community?

The consequences of not addressing adolescent mental health conditions extend to adulthood, impairing both physical and mental health and limiting opportunities to lead fulfilling lives as adults. We are then called upon to be aware of and facilitate the experiences that contribute to good mental health in youth. Factors such as a strong sense of safety in community; high self-esteem, self-efficacy, and positive sense of self-worth; and connection to spiritual or cultural beliefs, goals, or dreams provide meaning and purpose youths’ lives.

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National Philanthropy Day: Collin and Janel Bruce

For National Philanthropy Day 2020 we nominated The REALTORS® Community Foundation, Ledcor Group, Collin and Janel Bruce, No Room in the Inn, and Hillcrest Junior High to recognize their incredible support of YESS!

Collin and Janel Bruce

Youth Empowerment & Support Services (YESS) is honored to recognize Collin, Janel & the team at Collin Bruce Mortgage Team for the profound impact that their philanthropic commitment has had over the past 10 years on our organization and the lives of the incredible youth that we serve every day. As passionate advocates and ambassadors for our youth in the community, the Collin Bruce Mortgage Team has helped to strengthen the futures of our youth through their many creative and generous avenues of support. With television and radio commercials, they have been instrumental in raising awareness of the challenges our youth face. Their benevolence has extended to major financial support, Christmas gifts for the youth celebrating the holidays at YESS and they have generously matched support for an annual Sonic auction initiative. Over the years, they have regularly sponsored and helped to grow both our annual Gala for Youth and YESS Charity Golf Tournament. Many thanks to Collin, Janel & the Collin Bruce Mortgage Team for their tireless long-term support and encouragement of our youth as they grow and empower themselves to become independent and break the cycle of homelessness.

“YESS plays an integral role for the youth of this city. These youth are put in unimaginable, terrible circumstances, at no fault of their own. Not only does YESS provide a safe place for these kids to go, over time they help address and heal the trauma that they face. We are so grateful and blessed to be a part of the small business community in Edmonton and have always wanted to give back to that community. We connected with YESS when we started our business and feel so lucky to be a part of that family. We truly believe that the happiest people are not those getting more, but those giving more and try to live by this.”

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A Look at the Past

Jessica Day, Director of Program Innovation, has been working with vulnerable populations since obtaining her BA in Psychology from the University of Alberta in 2004. Jessica spent the early days of her career working in a variety of group care settings focusing on high-risk children and youth with complex cases. Her work often involved clients who had experienced extreme family violence and sexual abuse. When Jessica joined the YESS family in 2016, she focused on becoming a certified Trauma and Compassion Fatigue Practitioner to fully understand the trauma journeys of youth and staff.  Jessica brings a wealth of experience and deep understanding of the complex needs of the most vulnerable youth. 

When you asked me to look back to when I first started in this field, I was shocked to think it’s been over 20 years. Time flies when you are helping humans to grow and develop, as any parent will tell you. What I do remember from my first days in group care, was the battle between my educated ego and my lack of experience and how all first-time workers feel. We feel smart and understanding of other human behaviour, having educated ourselves on the psychology and sociology behind how to work with youth at risk, children in care or transitioning youth to adulthood. We have this profound sense of ego that we know all the tools and techniques to help kids and change the system for the better. We are smart and we are going to save lives and change the world! And then we are hit with what the real experiences of working with youth are like and that is when the real work actually begins.

They say knowledge is power, however trying to explain the hierarchy of needs to an escalated youth resulted in a chair being thrown at my head and my life being threatened in the first 30 minutes of being on shift. I wasn’t actually in any danger; the youth was escalated because I gave them space and fuel to be escalated and when the adrenaline wore off, so did the threat. I can remember, clearly, the process of writing about this incident in the hand-written logbook and shaping the narrative of what happened out of fear of my job being questioned or to prove I was a youth worker, and less about the facts of what was done. Why? Because I was afraid: of the youth, of another escalated situation I couldn’t handle, and for my job.

I bring this up not because I am a bad youth worker (although they say that those who can’t do, teach or lead!), or to indicate that this business is scary. My point here is that, back in the day, we often operated and communicated out of fear. Sometimes it was the fear of the unknown, sometimes it was the fear of action, sometimes it was the fear of our careers. Policies and procedures were reactive written laws in the homes; however, they didn’t allow for the many grey scenerios that came up. This led to a need for someone else to tell us what to do, how to act, what is expected. This fear and this structure meant that proactive problem-solving and proactive innovations were not heard or utilized.

As I grew older and moved up the systemic hierarchy to have positions of decision making, responsibility, and leadership, I realized that the system was structured in a way that protected youth rights but also agency liabilities. There was very little support or engagement with the frontline staff and there was nothing close to interactive feedback on changes or ideas. Youth workers were almost dispensable and expected to follow along. It was a difficult time because it tied the hands of the workers who were directly trying to impact the lives of youth and it made this human process very bureaucratic. Burn out, lack of change or impact with the youth, and even staff turn over were the biggest frustrations in the system. We didn’t talk about the reasons why a youth was in service—we spoke of their behaviours and escalations. We didn’t talk about family relations, unless specifically designated to family reunification. We had strict goals for the youth, dictated by the government or guardians, that the youth had to comply with but didn’t get a voice in. Staff were injured and held accountable for serious ethical violations, without any support or understanding or compassion.

The biggest evolution I have seen is that there is a collective understanding that our system needed to evolve and change. We couldn’t keep operating out of fear of the youth and their history, we had to look at them as wholistic human beings who were hurt. Agencies started to understand that they needed to support their staff and look at their skills and capacities with intention and purpose. Engagement at all levels became important; youth, staff, and leaders all had perspectives and they all needed to be heard in order to form a policy. There was a shift in how we educate our staff, understanding that we need more than book knowledge to develop into youth workers; onsite placements increased in availability and length of time. Access to practicing skills, with support, became necessary for our youth workers. Trainings became more than a task that was checked off for accreditation; it became necessary to evolve and grow our capacities and update our knowledge and practice of tools to help.

We also started to hear and understand the word trauma and research into the brain science behind trauma and youth development became necessary. Science was telling us about the healthy trajectory of youth and comparing it to the developmental trajectory of youth who experienced trauma, and this opened up the scope of understanding the youth’s behaviours and escalations. It wasn’t willful disobedience that we needed to fear. There were needs not being met, survival skills protecting against more trauma, and developmental delays that require different approaches. We also started seeing the youth as individual humans with complex needs and goals. The language in the group homes and the policies and the history of the youth all changed to be more trauma-focused and including more context and humanity. The youth were no longer dangerous, scary, and evil people—they were scared, traumatized, and hurt kids who were locked in a survival mode.

Understanding this meant that we focused, as a system, on building relationships with the youth. Letting them tell their own stories and experiences, building up trust that we would handle them with care and grow their hope or potential. Youth workers started to get benefits and access to wellness supports that made it so they didn’t have to take on more trauma from this job. And our storytelling became more human and solution or growth-focused, rather than based on fear. Staff at all levels understood that feedback was important and necessary to be more effective and efficient with any policy changes. Agencies became teams and youth started to see more success as agencies and families truly collaborated around them.

The best part is that with the system changing and collaborating, we got excited to educate the community. We wanted their help; we were not longer adversaries. Our system staff understood that the community needed to be part of the solutions and part of the discussions and part of the knowledge. We can’t do this alone and the community can’t support if they aren’t walked beside as well. There’s a pride and excitement in engaging the community members and partners into collaborating and supporting the youth and it creates an entire city of growth and care.

The ultimate outcome of all this evolution is that the youth journey became healthier and more supported. In the past, youth were names and behaviours, shuffled and moved around according to agency needs, staff fears/narratives, or funding expectations. They were traumatized over and over by broken relationships and lack of trust; trust in themselves, the workers, and the systems. Goals were not met or if they were, it wasn’t genuine. Loss and grief for youth and staff were real and stereotypes were large and loud for our youth. With all these changes, the youth are now humans and their journey is one of understanding and empathy and compassion. We are youth-focused, not staff or agency-focused and this means the image of the youth changes. We are protective of their stories and their narratives across systems, within communities and amongst agencies. The youth journey is collaborative and at their pace because we recognize their voice and their knowledge and their pain. We acknowledge that these are their lives and we are here to fully support what they need, when they need it, however they need it. There is no fear or judgement anymore, only compassion and desire for growth and success. The stigma around youth behaviours is changing and the stigma around family involvement is changing and moving into more trauma-informed discussions. We know, now, that hurt humans hurt humans. We know that healing is dependant on relationship building and we know that the stakes are high. We are committed to a collective belief that we want to do this work, we need to do this work, and we can only do it when we grow and evolve together.

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Community Spotlight: Mealshare

Mealshare is committed to creating a world where it’s easier to share with those in need, and every child and youth is fed as a result. And, they won’t stop until that’s happened.

How does Mealshare work? Mealshare partners with restaurants and selects a “Mealshare Item” for the menu. When a customer orders this item, they get their meal, just like normal—and for each of those items sold, restaurants contribute $1.00 to Mealshare. Those funds are shared with partner agencies like YESS to purchase groceries and ingredients to provide meals for children and youth. Buy one, give one—it’s that simple!

Mealshare first partnered with us in 2015 and they have donated over $100,000 to YESS! 

We talked to Shree Govindarajan about her experience in bringing restaurants and charities together to support youth and children in our communities.

Tell us about yourself and your role at Mealshare.

My name is Shree, and I am the Edmonton Community Leader for Mealshare. I joined the organization in August 2018 to help fight against youth hunger, and connect with the restaurant community to do so. The Community Leader position is a combination of restaurant recruitment and retention, as well as managing our charity partners, and other community stakeholders. It’s been a rewarding experience, and such a great way to engage with my city.

How does Mealshare work?

It’s really simple! Mealshare is a non-profit organization whose mission is to end youth hunger in our lifetimes, with a Buy 1, Give 1 model. Our partner restaurants put the Mealshare logo on 2-3 menu items, and when patrons go in and order those items, they not only get a delicious meal, but they also share a meal with a youth in need through our program. Our partner restaurants provide us with funds for each one of their Mealshare items sold, and we distribute those funds to partner charities who then serve those meals. It’s a really great way to turn dining out into helping out!

Why did Mealshare choose to focus on supporting kids and youth focused organizations?

Kids and youth are such a vulnerable population, and we wanted to focus on these groups as well as the glaring issue of youth hunger in our communities. When people think of starving kids, they often think of groups in other countries, of it being a far-away issue. They often don’t think about the kids who live in their own communities, who are going to school without lunches in their backpacks, or food in their bellies. Especially as kids need good nutrition in this critical growth stage, it’s so important that they receive healthy meals on a consistent basis, and we’re so happy we can help through our program.

How does Mealshare see their impact in the community?

Recently, Mealshare hit the 4.5 million meals shared mark, which is incredible. Just thinking about 4.5 million Canadian kids who were fed through our program is very humbling, and also mind-blowing. Our impact on a day-to-day basis is still humbling, if not a little more easy to digest. We hear from restaurant owners that their customers love that they can give back to their communities in a way that is tangible, and guilt-free. We hear from our charity partners that it is nice to have a consistent source of funding, and that it helps them to plan and budget better. We see it in volunteer sessions with our partner charities, when we can serve meals directly alongside our restaurant partners, and see the impact of our work as kids and youth fill their plates.

Find out which Edmonton restaurants partner with Mealshare here

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