Baylor graduate runs business on donations, volunteers to feed town

Cameron McCown believes everyone should have access to healthy food. In May 2015, he made his beliefs his practice.

The 2010 Baylor graduate opened Bread of Life Deli in Meridian, Idaho. He open this restaurant with an unorthodox philosophy — that everyone should have healthy food, even if they can’t afford it.

“We want to create a space where people can dine with dignity,” McCown said. “If that means serving them a healthy meal prepared right in front of them without asking for anything in return, so be it.”

The restaurant runs on donations. There is a podium called the “donation station” near the back of the restaurant where people can swipe their card for whatever amount they choose, or leave cash in a box.

“We trust the community and trust that if we take care of the community that the community will take care of us,” McCown said.

People donate their time by volunteering at the restaurant. Community members can schedule three to four days in advance to come and take orders or deliver food. The restaurant helps volunteers get their food handler’s license to make the food.

“One of my concerns was that we wouldn’t be able to find volunteers, but the exact opposite has happened,” McCown said. “We have people fighting over days to volunteer.”

Laurie Miller heard about Bread of Life Deli through a friend and loved the idea, so she decided to take a break from retirement and apply for a job there. Miller remembers times in her life when she wished someone showed her compassion and helped her when she needed it, so she is so glad she is in a position now to be compassionate and feed the needs of others.

“Jesus was here to serve and so am I,” Miller said.

She too has been overwhelmed by the response of the community and is pleasantly surprised by people’s willingness to donate.

“I have seen people come in and donate and leave,” Miller said. “People want to support this organization because they see the great work we do and want to be a part of it. We could not do what we do without the help of the community.”

People Magazine reported that 60 percent of Bread of Life’s guests donate about market price for their food, 20 percent donate more and 20 percent donate less or give no monetary donation.

McCown’s inspiration comes from his Christian faith and his desire to emulate Jesus Christ.

“I want to do the most loving thing in every moment,” McCown said. “For me, feeding people is loving people. God is love and he does not exchange his love for anything that we do, so when I think about how I can love the world best, it has to be for nothing in exchange.”

McCown said he feels an obligation to love people in similar ways that Christ did.

“I see Jesus feeding 5,000 people. I don’t see him feeding 4,500 because some of them were gay or poor or tattooed,” McCown said. “I want to love everyone for who they are, and feeding them with dignity is the best way I know how.”

McCown graduated from Baylor with a degree in finance and took several entrepreneurship classes with a bigger picture in mind.

“I use what I learned at Baylor every day, especially my entrepreneurship skills when I was first opening the restaurant,” McCown said. “I was so prepared because of the classes I took at Baylor.”

McCrown said he didn’t always have the Bread of Life Deli as his plan, but knew he wanted to help people in his own way. Even now, McCown said he hopes to expand the deli but acknowledges that he needs to let the community guide his business, not his own plans.

“I need to make walls for myself but be totally willing to take a sledgehammer to them when things change or need to change,” McCown said.

The deli has four staff members and seats 36 people. The team is hoping to expand to a facility that could accommodate about 80. On average, McCown estimates they serve between 50 to 80 people a day.

“I believe what you put into food matters and what you put into your body matters,” McCown said. “It is so important to feed the least and the lost and the broken in addition to the comfortable and the well-off.”