Pay-it-forward cafe closes doors temporarily in Hamilton


Published August 1, 2023 at 11:26 am


The non-profit, pay-it-forward cafe 541 Eatery & Exchange says it has “made the difficult decision” to extend the closure of its restaurant due to safety concerns and staff burnout. However, its youth programs are continuing.

The Hamilton non-profit at 541 Barton St. E., which provides free food to around 150 people each day, announced on July 28 on social media that it was extending its restaurant closure.

With a mission “to create a diverse community of belonging around the table,” 541 Eatery & Exchange runs a pay-it-forward cafe and youth programs as well as provides volunteer opportunities.

“We are committed to the long-term sustainability of the organization and are asking for your patience and support as we assess the next steps that are required for us to reopen safely,” it wrote in a July 28 Facebook post. “We’re deeply sorry and ask for your patience and support. We hope to provide more information soon.”

In a post on July 17, it noted “major changes” in the past year when it opened for dine-in. As a result, it saw more people without housing and “staff responded to a steady stream of medical emergencies, we experienced significant turnover due to burnout, and more recently have had an increase in mental health crises in our community.”

The organization said “it’s safe to say we’re not resourced properly to offer all the support that our staff and community need.”

The group relies on donations to keep its doors open. It also uses the funds to host free community groups and youth programs. People can buy buttons to help financially strapped patrons pay for their meals.

“We’re saddened that we cannot sustainably respond to the needs arising from major systemic failures and we’re working hard to find ways to make what we CAN offer more sustainable, safe, and rooted in care and are discussing how to best use the resources we have to make that happen again,” it wrote. “Thank you to our neighbours and volunteers for the constant love and encouragement, our donors for wanting to share your resources to help us extend care, and the staff that fill this place with their enormous fiery hearts and silliness.”

The organization said it uses the funds from cafe sales and donations to run free programs for teens in the neighbourhood, including after-school programming, one-on-one mentoring, soccer camp, teen leadership camp and other special events.


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