‘Pay it Forward’ meal program comes from the heart at M&J’s
By Lyonel Doherty
The man was meticulously counting his change to see what he could afford for a modest bite to eat.
The coins didn’t amount to much, so his options were limited despite his hunger.
Little did he know that a hamburger and fries were waiting for him free of charge, thanks to someone’s generosity in Oliver.
“We always had the idea that we wouldn’t want anybody going hungry,” said Jennifer Hartle, who owns M&J’s Country Kitchen with her husband Matthew Hartle.
The couple have begun facilitating a “Pay it Forward” program where people come in and pre-pay for meals to benefit the less fortunate.
“As a single parent I didn’t have the luxury to take my kids out for fries or a dessert, or even a hot meal,” Jennifer said while taking a break at one of the tables.
She too had to utilize the food bank when times were tough, admitting that it’s a very humbling experience, and one that is hard to talk about.
For six months Jennifer had to rely on other people’s generosity in order to feed her family of two children.
“You kind of want to hide your face sometimes . . . if I didn’t get to the food bank, I don’t know, I struggled, definitely.”
But now that she’s back on her feet, Jennifer wants to give back what people gave to her.
She and Matthew came up with the idea to involve local residents in helping others who are struggling to get by. They erected a board on the wall filled with menu items that people previously paid for. Someone who needs a meal can simply come in and choose what’s on the board.
“We knew we couldn’t afford to cover everyone’s meals, so we put it out to the community, allowing them to participate,” Jennifer said.
“They love to see it (the menu item they paid for) going up, and they love to see it that it has disappeared by the time they get back.”
Jennifer said a single mom and her children can come in and have a full meal. Or a struggling senior can drop by for a bite to eat.
The Hartles have reached out to the local food bank and churches to spread the word that the program is available.
Jennifer said at least 40 meals were purchased after one media outlet aired a story about it.
She’ll never forget the fellow who was counting his coins, worrying about what he could afford on the menu. Needless to say, he was so excited when he found out his burger and fries were free. He even bought a dessert with the few coins he had in his pocket.
One customer came in and purchased a meal for a single mom.
“She came in a week or two later and enjoyed it with her daughter,” Jennifer said.
The restaurant is no doubt a labour of love for the Hartles, who opened their doors on March 1. Two weeks later they were forced to shut down due to COVID-19. That was tough.
Then they were faced with how to reopen safely again, which was a “huge challenge.”
But thanks to friends, family and the community, the word got out and now they are back in business while adhering to mandated protocols, such as spacing tables six feet apart and disinfecting everything on a regular basis.