Originally published on Broadsheet (26 September 2016)
It’s Saturday night and you’re at your favourite local restaurant – there’s soft music and wine, good company over plates scraped clean. But not far away, perhaps dossing down in a doorway across the street or curled up in their car around the block, is someone sleeping rough, someone else going hungry. This is their local restaurant too.
Now, imagine if there was a simple way you could help when the bill arrived.
This Christmas season, StreetSmart Australia is once again urging restaurants and diners to give back to those in need with the launch of its annual DineSmart campaign. Running from the 14th of November until New Year’s Eve, patrons at participating restaurants are invited to donate $2 per table to local services tackling homelessness.
It’s a small request with big consequences. According to StreetSmart founder and CEO Adam Robinson, StreetSmart has now raised close to $4 million off the plates of Australian diners since it began the campaign in 2003. That money has supported around 1,250 grassroots projects and services, from the Melbourne Period Project to The 139 Club in Brisbane.
“We helped set up the street soccer program at The Big Issue,” Robinson says. “We gave the first community grant to the guys who do the Orange Sky Landry, which is a mobile laundry service, so we do a lot of that first funding; sparking ideas or helping seed fund social enterprises and responses…that government wouldn’t typically fund.”
In neighbourhoods where high end restaurants often look out onto people sleeping rough across the street, Robinson says homelessness is becoming “increasingly visible” to Australians.
“There are these little neighbourhood operations…a women’s refuge or a youth service or maybe a soup kitchen and, if you peel back the surface, they’re in every community….The beauty of DineSmart is that all the money raised stays in the restaurant’s local area.”
Last year, funds raised by Chin Chin in Melbourne travelled just 500 metres away to nearby Hosier Lane, where Youth Projects created “winter survival kits” for young people sleeping out in the CBD. Cutler and Co, meanwhile, has long supported outreach and housing programs at St Mary’s House of Melbourne in Fitzroy while The Apollo funds Sydney Homeless Connect.
“Last year, we funded a women’s refuge in Perth who then used that to buy new pyjamas and linen for each of the women coming through,” Robinson says. “And for the women who often arrive with nothing but the clothes they’re standing in, [that gesture] really brings home to them that they’re in a safe, secure and loving environment so having funding available for that kind of thing is really important.”
Robinson says the campaign, which this year earnt StreetSmart a Food for Good award from The Age, is also a perfect way to “connect restaurants with their customers”.
“Restaurants revolve around people and the community…[DineSmart] connects with their staff and their guests, it gives them something to talk about other than food and wine, so it’s another dimension to their brand.”
With around 45 restaurants already on board across the country, including the likes of Longrain, Mamasita and Urbane, Robinson says he’s now hoping to widen the net even further.
“We’ve had a steady number, around 100 to 120 each year for the last number of years…but this year we’d really like to get more restaurants involved because…the campaign is a proven model, we’ve got some great partners and we’d like to have more.”
With Christmas fast approaching, Robinson says “it’s the perfect time” for restaurants to get involved.
“They’re busy, there’s lots of tables coming through and people are in that mindset to help out.”
To sign up your restaurant or find a map of participating venues, visit http://streetsmartaustralia.org/dinesmart/
By Sherryn Groch