The theft of two cellphones during the Everyone Eats supper service on Wednesday has served as an opportunity to explore the complexity of harm that ripples out when a crime is committed.
The theft of the cellphones served as a learning opportunity, said Everyone Eats co-founder and Brandon John Howard Society Board chair Ted Dzogan. He noted the John Howard Society works with people who have been in conflict with the law and administers the restorative justice program in Manitoba — a major component of this is limiting the harm and repairing the harm done by crime.
“It’s easy to be academic and say that when you are not the one who is emotionally affected by the crime,” Dzogan said. “It’s much more difficult to act like that when the crime has been perpetrated against you. Your emotions are raw and you feel hurt.”
The stolen cellphones almost interrupted the delivery of meals, he said, but the major goal at Everyone Eats was ensuring they would be able to provide a dinner service on Friday.
While the phones have a dollar value, Dzogan said, volunteers’ greatest concern was the harm that would occur to those trying to call or send in orders for dinner. The phones were also used to co-ordinate with volunteers.
“My fear and many of the fears that went on that evening was how are we going to get a meal out on Friday if we don’t get the phone back,” Dzogan said. “If we didn’t get a meal out on Friday, we were actually amplifying that harm — it was going to affect 200 more people than it needed to.”
On Thursday, he secured replacement phones and transferred the phone number over to ensure they could get meals to Brandonites in need.
“If we focused on the crime, we would not have served a meal on Friday. Instead, we focused on the solution,” Dzogan said. “Our goal is to repair harm to build community. In order to do that, we need to put out the meals and stop thinking about loss and start thinking about solving problems.”
The situation was further complicated, he added, because they did not want to cause harm to others because they were hurt by the crime. Their job at Everyone Eats was to focus on their response to ensure everyone was safe and they could continue their good work.
“We minimized the harm, but we did it with the priority being exactly on that, going back to the thing we set out to accomplish,” Dzogan said.
Everyone Eats is now using the experience to start a conversation in Brandon about crime and how to build the safest community possible for all community members.
The goal of Everyone Eats since its inception has been to build community ties and bring people together.
The not-for-profit launched early in the pandemic due to concerns community members could be facing difficulties getting food on the table because of the economic impacts of COVID-19.
Dzogan was looking to bring a new economic model to Brandon that had a permeable line between those seeking aid and those providing help.
“Today if you need help, you got help. Tomorrow, you could be on the other side of the line and be giving help. You were free to pass back and forth across that line as often as suited you,” Dzogan said. “I wanted a model where you pay what you can afford.”
Meals with Everyone Eats costs about $8 to create. When placing an order, people can choose to pay any amount that works best for them. Anyone who pays more than $8 is a contributor and is helping to feed someone else, while those who pay less than $8 are getting help from fellow community members.
The not-for-profit launched using $7,000 with the goal of feeding as many people as possible.
“By leveraging the community and having them pay what they could afford what we realized and hoped, and it turned out to be true, was that that $7,000 wasn’t a one-time spend — we got most of it back. We spent it again and we got most of it back,” Dzogan said.
To date, Everyone Eats has now served almost 33,500 meals, including 13,200 that were provided for free.
Everyone Eats serves three meals a week, including a limited number of free meals each day. Meals are available for pickup or by delivery by volunteers from about 4 to 6 p.m. Meals can be ordered at everyoneeatsbrandon.ca.
In the first three months of the program, the average person paid about $6.33 for a meal, Dzogan said. That has slowly changed, and they are now seeing people pay about $4 on average for a meal.
The experience of running Everyone Eats varies from day to day, Dzogan said — some clients have brought them to tears with their gratitude for the support they received, and they have built connections as some people have been ordering meals since the program began.
The biggest reward is when they have someone who participates in the program and goes on to provide a donation to help others.
“They explain how they went through a tough time and instead of going all the way down to the bottom they got community supports, not just from us, and they turned it around and they’re back on their feet,” Dzogan said. “That is a heartwarming thing.”
Everyone Eats has launched a GoFundMe to help cover the cost of purchasing two new phones. The costs of replacing the stolen phones translate to about 225 fewer meals than they otherwise would have been able to serve.
The fundraiser can be found at gofundme.com/f/eats-cellphone-replacements and has raised $1,345 as of Sunday.
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Chelsea Kemp, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Brandon Sun