How is 541 operating in the COVID-19 lockdown?
What have been the financial difficulties 541 has faced during COVID-19?
What does a return to business look like for 541?
How can people help 541 at this time?
By: Zak McDonald
Rob Miller is working overtime right now, splitting his time between being a pastor of St Luke’s Anglican church while managing a not-for-profit coffee shop in one of Hamilton’s most vulnerable neighbourhoods.
541 Barton doubles as a high-end cafe where university students cram for exams on MacBooks and a place for Hamilton’s homeless community to get a free meal. One of the hallmarks of this community hub is watching different people from different walks of life eating and drinking together in 541's welcoming space. Providing the space to do this is the biggest challenge 541 faces during the COVID-19 pandemic.
"A lot of our regulars, just do to different circumstances, a lot of them tied to poverty, are not in the greatest health," says Miller. "We can't really push the limits or be trailblazers in getting people back into restaurants. It's even more unsafe for our folks."
541 typically operates under a pay-it-forward "button system" where customers can purchase a button for a dollar that gets placed in a jar and can be used as currency by anyone in the community, no questions asked. During COVID-19 541 recognized that they must find an alternative to continue providing the meals that these customers have been able to rely on.
The cafe quickly got to work by offering free bagged lunches to anyone who asked for one. 541 offers seventy-five free lunches on a first-come, first-serve basis. The lunches are filled with donations from local food companies including apples from Bennett's Apple Farm, Milk from Hewitt's Dairy and sandwiches that are hand made each morning by a paired down 541 staff.
Although 541 typically relies on food and coffee sales to remain afloat, Miller points out that the cafe has been kept afloat by financial donations from local businesses and churches. For more information on what 541 does and how to donate to the business, you can visit 541's website here.