This Holiday Season, a Coworking Studio Gave Free Space to Food Bank Donors

Jed Oelbaum

Missing the inspiration and social vibrancy of being around other creative people, Jesse Herbert, founder of Oopsmark, decided to build his own ideal coworking space. But the new office, located in Montréal, was finished before its official January launch date and it seemed like a shame to leave it empty for a month. So to get the ball rolling early, in December Oopsmark offered free use of the facility to those who brought in non-perishable donations for Moisson Montréal, a local food bank.

“It’s something we used to do as a kid in my family,” Herbert tells me by phone. “We used to go deliver food baskets to people at Christmas through a local community group.”

Herbert worked as a mechanical and environmental engineer at Natural Resources Canada and Environment Canada before leaving to start Oopsmark. The company makes leather accessories and all kinds of innovative cycling stuff, like bike saddlebags and a bike wine rack.

“This time of year, giving people food is just helpful,” says Herbert. “And Montréal has a lot of homeless and hungry people—it has the biggest food bank in Canada and Montréal isn’t even the biggest city here.”

As of early 2016, Montréal was home to more than 3,000 people who were at least temporarily homeless, according to the Mouvement pour mettre fin à l’itinérance à Montréal. Even those residents with jobs and homes often experience poverty, and many others just have a hard time making ends meet during the holidays. Moisson Montréal helps even the odds for struggling locals, providing food aid to more than 140,000 people every month. This year, the organization’s “Feeding the Holiday Spirit” campaign produced 20,000 holiday baskets, 6,800 emergency bags, and 10,000 gift bags for people in need.

Herbert tells me the Moisson Montréal initiative was an accessible way for people to give back without asking them to fork over cash during an already-tough time of year. Plus, after spending a good amount of time putting the space together, the Oopsmark team was eager to finally get the creative energy buzzing.

“We’re a small company, so it’s nice to be able to work around people who are excited about what they’re doing, focused on what they’re doing,” says Herbert. “It’s fun for us and it helps us to our job better.”

Herbert says the drive has brought in a bevy of non-perishable foods and has so far attracted one new paying tenant for the space. “I think the highlight was having a group of teenagers from the YWCA come in on a Sunday and plan an exhibit they’re working on,” he tells me. He says the group, called Strong Girls Strong World, is “planning a photo exhibit of Montreal for next year.”

The coworking space itself features eight individual stations, standing desks, “squatting desks,” and a number of other options designed to promote variation and movement throughout the day. There’s a mini-gym, hydroponic systems for growing plants, and Herbert tells me he plans to add a recumbent bicycle.

“We’re trying to address this question of: how do you work?” he says. “Do you sit, do you stand, do you move around during the day? A lot of people are excited to talk about that.”