UNICEF taps in to Canadian diners

Diners will find an additional expense added to their bills at certain restaurants across the Greater Toronto Area this week.

UNICEF has launched the Tap Project for the first time in Canada, in recognition of World Water Week. From March 22 to 29, five Canadian restaurant brands – Swiss Chalet, Milestones, Montana’s, Kelsey’s and Harvey’s – will ask diners to pay at least one dollar for a glass of water, which would normally come free.

The proceeds will go to UNICEF projects trying to provide clean water in developing countries. John Kennedy, manager of the Milestones at John and Richmond streets, said his staff has no problem asking customers to pay an extra fee for water.

“It’s not like we’re begging; we’re just… trying to do everything we can to help out children.”

Leanne Nicolle, a UNICEF Canada consultant, helped bring Tap north of the border. She said she expected Canadians to embrace the project.

“We brought it to Canada because it was an excellent opportunity to bring awareness to the global water crisis and how it affects children in the developing world,” she said.

Initiated in New York City last year, Tap has been introduced in more than 13 cities across the United States. Nicolle had intended to bring Tap to Canada by launching a pilot project in the Greater Toronto Area. But when Cara Operations Ltd. – owners of the five restaurant brands involved – expressed interest in Tap, UNICEF and Cara decided to introduce the program nationally.

According to UNICEF, unclean water and poor sanitation can kill more than 5,000 children every day. By donating one dollar at the end of their restaurant meal, Canadians can provide a child with clean drinking water for 40 days.

Last year Tap raised over US$100,000 in New York City while operating in independently owned restaurants. While neither UNICEF nor Cara would put a dollar amount on their expectations, Erin Maynes, a Cara employee who worked on the Tap project, emphasized the importance of highlighting the issue in the Canadian consciousness.

“I don’t think it’s just about money; it’s (about) raising awareness,” she said.

According to Milestones’ manager Kennedy, Canadians lack that awareness. While the project has received a warm reception from customers, he said that very few people know about Tap before they walk into the restaurant.

“I don’t think that quite a few people are (familiar with Tap) because it’s so new to Canada,” he said. “It’s big in the States, (but) we’re just starting it now up here.”

UNICEF hopes they can duplicate the success they had in New York City last year. Nicolle said they brought the Tap Project to Canada to remind Canadians not to take this country’s abundance of clean water for granted.

“I mean, we brush our teeth with it; we shower with it; we wash our cars with it. (That’s) not necessarily the way in the rest of the world,” she said. “Be grateful for the privilege – or the right – of having clean drinking water.”

The Tap Project began March 22 and runs to March 29. For more information, visit www.tapproject.ca.