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“Pay what you can” in the works for Abbotsford

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Kyle Dyck, a former youth pastor for eight years at Immanuel Fellowship Baptist Church, is currently in the early stages of fundraising for Abby Eats Café, a proposed “pay what you can” establishment that would allow patrons to substitute work (like washing dishes) for food, or even pay meals forward for their fellow community members.

Inspired, as it happens, by an episode of Guy Fieri’s Diners, Drive-Ins, and Dives that featured a pay what you can model establishment, Dyck became interested in the idea and began researching. As he learned more, he got “fired up [and] passionate about how it’s a creative way to help with social issues like food security.”

According to Dyck, there are around 50 to 60 establishments with this model currently operating in the United States successfully, but none in western Canada. He thinks there is room and support for this initiative.

“You live in Abbotsford, just look around, you don’t even really have to give stats to convince people it’s an issue, it’s just everywhere,” Dyck said.

“I don’t think it really matters what you believe, or where your worldview is at,” he continued. “I think it’s a real human need for people to be fed a healthy meal at a price they can afford. I look at the Lower Mainland, and there’s no excuse — we produce so much food, there is so much wealth around here. There is no way that people should be struggling with this issue at least.”

However he also understood the limitations and scope of the plan.

“I’m not trying to solve world hunger,” said Dyck. “Nor am I under any illusion that this is going to fix the issue at large, but if I can do my part to at least put a dent in or contribute to positive social change I’d love to be a part of that.”

Currently Abby Eats Café is still in the first phase of online fundraising with a goal of $25,000 by the end of June, and $75,000 overall in the next year or so. According to their website this would cover a location, head chef, kitchen equipment, licences, and marketing costs, to get the establishment off the ground before it can start bringing in revenue through patrons and donations. Dyck also mentioned that the process to become an officially registered charity would still take time, but once they are approved, it would open the door for more supporters, donators, and suppliers to become involved as Abby Eats would be able to give tax deductible receipts.

“For this model to work, you need about 60 to 80 per cent to pay the suggested price or more, to make up for the 20 per cent or so who don’t,” said Dyck. “You are marketing to middle and upper class, you need them in there. That means the meals we serve need to be of a high quality.”

The menu would have to match the excellence of other businesses in downtown Abbotsford, but the decision would best be made by whoever comes on as the head chef.

The response from the community and stakeholders he has met with in this process has been for the most part positive — although he admitted there has been some kickback from people who question whether they will have to be sitting next to someone who is homeless in the café.

His answer? “Yes. Hopefully. That’s the dream.”

Dyck admitted that the city’s relationship with the homeless and those most at risk of food insecurity has been strained in the past. His hope with the café is to “mix social classes, and that’s obviously an enormous challenge.” He wants to see the café become a hub where people become more cognizant of our relationship with food — and what it means to have stability and nutrition — but also where people can come together as a stronger community. As the project grows, Dyck hopes that Abby Eats Café becomes a place that can give work experience, perhaps to homeless youth or people who can’t get it elsewhere. There, they could also get training in food prep or cooking.

He is also open to students who might be passionate about these type of issues but don’t have the monetary means to support the first stage of the project, to volunteer their time and expertise during this fundraising campaign. He noted they have a UFV student from the graphic design program who had recently come on board, and is also looking to tap in with those pursuing careers in business or financials. If nothing else, he encourages people to spread awareness of the project if they can.

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