The Giving Wall: a pay-it-forward food initiative helping businesses and customers

Our economy and pandemic are making times challenging for everyone but a new pay-it-forward food innovation is aiming to help Calgarians support those who need a boost.

At participating restaurants, cafes and coffee shops, The Giving Wall enables Calgarians to buy a meal or gift card for someone who may not be able to pay for one. Local food writer Julie Van Rosendaal, who is a member of The City of Calgary’s Business Sector Task Force, is spearheading the program which is supported by The City.

“It really allows Calgarians to support their communities in any amount they can afford in a convenient way and direct that cash through the restaurant,” said Van Rosendaal. “This sort of does double duty: it supports our local restaurants and allows people to come in and grab a meal. I’m particularly worried about kids who are separated from their food supports at school right now and that’s almost 200,000 kids throughout the city. A lot of them are mobile, can move around and hop on their bikes and walk into a restaurant or coffee shop and access a meal if they need one.”

Particularly when schools are closed and breakfast and lunch programs are not as available, access to food support can be difficult for many Calgarians. Restaurants can be part of the solution in a way that generates cash flow and helps keep them in business as well.

While the initiative is in its early stages, the response from Calgary businesses has been enthusiastic, said Van Rosendaal. “It looks different in each restaurant but everyone is doing it in a way that makes sense for them. They are all so willing to help and it’s great to see how communities are helping feed each other. The fact that the funds are going through the restaurants and helping them stay afloat which helps people stay employed and further prevents food insecurities.”

Van Rosendaal brought the concept to The City's Business Sector Task Force, a group focused on supporting businesses through the pandemic. “It’s been so fantastic being part of the Business Sector Task Force with The City and meeting weekly or biweekly with business owners from around the city and discussing all the challenges we’ve been facing. Small businesses keep Calgary going, keep people employed, make Calgary so interesting. It’s been really great to be able to interact and address problems and sort them out over the course of this pandemic.”

Participating business La Boulangerie is proud to support The Giving Wall initiative. Co-owner Shosh Cohen says her customers feel like family and it’s a way to give back together.

“We had to change everything and the community was with us the whole time, supported us through everything and this is our chance to pay it back,” she said. “I hope to see more good things happening, just like a domino effect. We will give some and then some others will give to others. It can only cause good things.”

The pandemic has been tough to navigate and that's why Cohen says this food gift concept is a good idea. “I think it’s helping everyone on all kinds of levels, money wise, mental wise. Even just to come here, it’s their happy place, that’s what I’m trying to create here. When people come here, there are no bad days. The pandemic doesn’t go through this door.”

The Giving Wall

The Giving Wall is a pay-it-forward program with restaurants, cafes and coffee shops, enabling Calgarians to buy a meal, coffee or slice of pizza for someone who may not be able to pay for one.

Here’s how it works

Anyone ordering food for pickup or takeout can pre-pay for an extra menu item (whatever makes sense for the restaurant - a slice of pizza, a pad Thai, a smoothie, a sandwich, etc.) or purchases a gift card in any denomination, and the gift card or receipt is tacked on the wall for anyone coming in to take and use. Restaurants can include the option to add a gift card for online orders, and if they don’t have a physical wall, could keep a pre-paid tab for anyone coming in, or ordering online or by phone.

There will soon be a map of participating venues.

Why are we doing this?

This is a way for Calgarians to support local restaurants in whatever way they can afford, while helping ensure their neighbours and particularly young Calgarians are fed. This is one way we help each other get through the rest of this pandemic and beyond.

The City of Calgary has partnered with local food writer Julie Van Rosendaal to launch the Giving Wall, a pay-it-forward program with restaurants, cafes and coffee shops.

To participate, restaurant owners can visit to download signage and learn more about how it works.