A Hamilton nurse is committed to feeding the community and helping local restaurants impacted during the pandemic one meal at a time.
Julie Freeman developed Feast in the Hammer, a fundraiser to support local restaurants while providing free meals to hungry Hamiltonians, when indoor dining temporarily shut down in December 2020 and again in January 2022.
While Freeman is always on the go with her full-time job at Hamilton Health Sciences as a clinical informatics specialist, doing her master’s degree online and managing a busy volunteer schedule, she wanted to step in and help after noticing the effects the first lockdown had on her favourite restaurants.
“I was afraid that the restaurants that I loved were going to close. It was a very selfish endeavour,” she told The Spectator.
Even though Freeman’s original plan was to help restaurants she loved, the nurse expanded her wish to help individuals struggling with food insecurities.
“I think people don’t realize how hungry their neighbours are,” she said.
Merk Snack Bar on Ottawa Street was the first restaurant Freeman considered for the initiative.
“I had a meeting with Mark Baker, the owner, just to see if the idea made sense. And even before I had told him that we would be paying for the meals, he was like ‘Yeah, let’s donate some food!’”
A GoFundMe was set up to raise funds to buy meals from Hamilton restaurants, which were donated to organizations like Good Shepherd, The Mark Preece Family House and Living Rock Ministries.
Meals were delivered by Freeman and a team of volunteers she recruited. She also led the fundraising, restaurant recruitment, volunteer recruitment and co-ordination with community organizations. Freeman said the response from folks who received the meals was more than positive.
“I got a lot of lovely thank-you notes and a lot of emails of people saying it was kind of the first restaurant meal that they had had in a long time and really enjoyed it,” she said.
According to Freeman, one of the initiative’s biggest accomplishments was raising $20,000 after starting with a goal of $1,000. “I thought that was huge and absolutely not what I was expecting.” In 2020, Feast in the Hammer supported seven restaurants and provided 500 meals and in 2022, the fundraiser was able to help 23 restaurants.
In 2022, Feast in the Hammer shifted gears and starting providing end-of-day stock from restaurants to the Community Fridges HamOnt, where Freeman is one of the program’s volunteer co-ordinators.
When asked what the next step for the initiative is, Freeman said they are finished with Feast in the Hammer now that the most recent lockdown is over.
“But if we lock down again, I’ll open it up again,” she noted. In the meantime, Freeman uses her social media to direct people to other programs that support food insecurity.
Freeman said the restaurants that benefitted from the fundraisers appreciated having the additional income and being able to support the community.
“A lot of people offered discounts or extra food that they knew that it was going to folks that needed it,” she said. “I think that’s the thing that made me appreciate Hamilton even more than I already do, the people who want to help.”