feedfive: Ont. student group finds creative solution for raising money to feed homeless

(Photo courtesy Lydia Frey/feedfive)
(Photo courtesy Lydia Frey/feedfive)

The first thing to look at when you first see one of feedfive’s T-shirts is the fork.

Count the tines. It’s a clever, subtle visual pun that alone is worth the $29 asking price even before you know the money is going to a good cause.

The group of students from the University of Waterloo launched their unique piece of swag this month to support their regular gig feeding the poor and homeless at a Kitchener-Waterloo, Ont., drop-in centre. One T-shirt pays for five meals prepared by the team. feedfive.

“We wanted it to be something really cool, really simple, [that] gets your attention,” Danny Aguizi, a psychology and business grad, told Yahoo Canada.

“We liked the fork idea because it’s really simple. Anyone knows what a fork is; you instantly get it. We added a fifth prong to it to kind of make it our own; five meals, five prongs. Most people don’t notice it. It’s kind of a small Easter egg there.”

Danny Aguizi (left) prepares food at Ray of Hope. (Conrad Grebel University College/feedfive)
Danny Aguizi (left) prepares food at Ray of Hope. (Conrad Grebel University College/feedfive)

Offering goodies in return for charitable donations is nothing new but feedfive’s web-based initiative has an organic feel you don’t see normally from established organizations.

The group first got together in September 2012 (it wasn’t called feedfive then), Aguizi said in an interview. Since then, it’s been serving supper at the Ray of Hope Community Centre one day a month. They do their food prep on Mondays and service it Tuesdays.

Centre CEO Harry Whyte told Yahoo Canada the group originated with students from the university’s Conrad Grebel College, a Mennonite institution founded in 1961. feedfive is one of many such groups from churches, unions and other organizations that donate their time to staff the centre’s kitchen each day. The centre had about 2,500 volunteers last year, Whyte said.

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Aguizi said his group, which has between 10 and 20 members depending on the time of year, serves between 250 and 300 meals in an average dinner sitting.

The fact the group was mostly students meant raising the money to provide the food was a real challenge, said Whyte.

Raising money for food proves difficult

“Sometimes they were short,” White said. “They’d end up talking to parents and friends trying to raise the extra money to buy the food.

“They just thought, you know what, why don’t we just figure out ways to engage more people in helping us. That’s where their whole feedfive idea came from.”

(Photo courtesy Danny Aguizi/feedfive)
(Photo courtesy Danny Aguizi/feedfive)

At first, Aguizi said, the group considered a conventional fund-raising drive but realized they needed something more sustainable.

“We thought if we give something back people are more motivated, if they got a shirt for it,” he said.

Whyte said the centre did little more than give feedfive its blessing to the entrepreneurial venture.

“We’ve had virtually nothing to do with it apart from, yeah, go ahead and knock yourselves out,” he said.

The initial run of shirts, financed with the group’s pooled cash, seems to be a hit, Aguizi said. feedfive sold more than 100 in the first week of online sales, plus dozens more at local events.

“We didn’t expect as many people from all over Canada to be buying,” he said, adding they’ve had requests from across the country as well as the United States and even Britain. “That’s definitely something that we weren’t expecting and we were pleasantly surprised by.

“We are already in talks with the small business that makes our shirts. We’re trying to see if we can get a second batch.”

Aguizi said feedfive has gotten some flak for calling its effort a start-up, conceding the group is not “super businessy.”

(Photo courtesy Danny Aguizi/feedfive)
(Photo courtesy Danny Aguizi/feedfive)

feedfive’s initial goal, sell 50 shirts a month

The goal at this point is fairly basic: sell 50 shirts a month to cover one day’s meals at Ray of Hope. Anything above that would be carried over to cover the next month.

But the plan, so far sidewalk lemonade-stand simple, has been evolving into something more ambitious.

feedfive still has a relatively limited presence on social media, but have newly launched on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram. A request for feedback on reddit produced not the usual cynical rejoinders but a raft of practical tips on how to expand its reach, such as adding ball caps and kitchen aprons with feedfive’s distinctive (hopefully trademarked) logo to its product line and finding cost-effective sources of food supplies for its meals.

“We got amazing feedback,” said Aguizi. “We were so happy with what people were saying. It was amazing seeing how people instantly got it, got what we were doing, and then they were building on it.”

The T-shirt’s initial success has also nurtured hopes there’ll be enough revenue eventually to help fund other volunteer teams at Ray of Hope who have the same problem funding their food-service efforts.

“If we’re going through this then other people are as well and some have reached out to us,” said Aguizi, adding he sees the concept expanding to other shelters in the region and perhaps in other cities.

But that’s in the future.

“Right now we’re super focused on our team and making the best meals that we can and being a super-welcoming volunteer group,” said Aguizi, whose team has no formal training but serves up hearty fare such as chili, shepherd’s pie, jambalaya and lasagna.

“But I’m a huge foodie so I’m always looking up new recipes, modifying them.”

To learn more about feedfive or purchase a t-shirt, visit feedfive.ca

(Photo courtesy Lydia Frey/feedfive)
(Photo courtesy Lydia Frey/feedfive)