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Ottawa man continues to cook gourmet meals for city's homeless community

Mike Shaheen, the creator of Munchies with Mike, is turning to his passion for food as he helps feed Ottawa's homeless community.

In the early months of the pandemic, Mike Shaheen finally turned his lingering idea into a reality: feeding the homeless one meal at a time.

He often found himself buying meals for the homeless, so he decided to create gourmet meals from scratch for the homeless instead.

“The first meal I did was in January [2020], and made a couple of meals. Then the COVID-19 pandemic started, [which] set me back for maybe like a month or so,” explains Shaheen.

He had this idea for almost two years before starting Munchies with Mike.

“One day, I called my buddy and I said, ‘Hey, I got this idea. I want to make some bacon mac and cheese grilled cheese sandwiches and go feed some people on the street,’ and he was on board.”

Shaheen who currently works from home as a Government of Canada employee, officially started his not-for-profit organization in September 2020, creating meals that are “outside the box” and are not as easily available, such as grilled bacon mac and cheese sandwiches, Philly steak wraps and gourmet breakfast wraps, which he regularly posts on his Instagram page.

He's always considered himself a foodie and this initiative has given him an even more reason to share his passion for food with his community, online or offline. Since the pandemic, it's also given him a chance to experiment with different foods.

“I try to make things a little bit interesting so that when they get a meal, it really surprises them,” Shaheen explains. “I thought, instead of just buying each person that I see on the streets, buying them something to eat or giving them some money, why not just make a big serving of a meal and feed as many people as I can."

It was while he was studying at the University of Ottawa, that he first had the idea of making meals for the homeless — as he'd always buy food for the homeless whenever he could. He felt his initiative was desperately needed.

"Wherever you go, you'll often see people in the streets and I figured that not everyone's eating regularly and they don't have access to meals or even shelter regularly all the time," says Shaheen. "This was a way for me to just kind of step in and help resolve that need a little bit."

Now, with the help of friends and sometimes family, Shaheen prepares meals once every two weeks, (which ideally serve 40-50 servings) where he then hands out to the homeless community at the Shepherds of Good Hope and the Salvation Army in downtown Ottawa. 

“Sometimes people tell me they haven't eaten in days,” says Shaheen. “And one person told me that this meal was heaven sent. It just shows how much Munchies with Mike has [already] made a difference."

Depending on the meals, he’ll also collaborate with other companies in Ottawa to help create meals and supply additional necessities as well. One of the challenges for Shaheen has been continuing to serve the homeless safely during the pandemic, as well as continuing his collaboration efforts. 

“With COVID, it's a little bit tougher, [but] whoever wants to collaborate with me, I'm more than happy to do that, in normal times, it'd be a lot easier,” explains Shaheen, adding that many people have already reached out to him to lend a hand.

On holidays such as Thanksgiving and Christmas, however, there is usually more of a demand for food where he has to prepare meals once a week as opposed to once every two weeks. Despite the workload, he says that makes him more grateful to see the community — even complete strangers — willing to be a part of his initiative.

“By posting [our work] on Instagram and kind of having a bit of a social media presence, it's something that people can get behind,” says Shaheen, adding that through his social media page, people can reach out and donate. “It's kind of a way for people to donate and feel good about their donations [and] knowing exactly where it's going.”

Aside from Munchies with Mike and while working from home, Shaheen continues to experiment with different foods. Even though he’s only been doing this for almost a year, the community's support is what keeps him going.

“If you have an idea, and you have something that you want to give back, I say, just go for it, because you never know, until you try,” he says. “You learn as you go and you'll never know what you can accomplish until you actually take that first step and get out of your comfort zone.”

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