CALGARY -- After losing more than a dozen friends and colleagues to suicide during the pandemic, Calgary chef Dustin Schafer decided enough was enough.

In the hope of both raising awareness and generating financial support for suicide prevention, Schafer is spearheading a fundraising dinner Sunday evening at Modern Steak on Eighth Avenue S.W.

In total, Schafer has lost 14 industry friends to suicide.

“The past 16 months have been pretty rough,” said Schafer to a large gathering of the media on Modern Steak’s second floor.

“There was really no warning sign with most of these people; happy, jovial, joking around and they seemed genuinely happy. You wake up the next day to that phone call stating that person isn’t here any more, it’s really tough."

The fundraising dinner will serve four courses, crafted by Schafer. All proceeds will be donated to the Centre for Suicide Prevention.

The owner of Modern Steak, Stephen Deere says the devastating effects of the pandemic were particularly felt in the restaurant and services industry.

"People in the restaurant industry, with the openings and closures due to lockdowns, have had it extra tough,” said Deere.

"Especially in our kitchens, we are their family, we are their structure. When people don’t have their structure; their friends and family beside them, they can spiral. Sadly we’ve seen that in our industry this year.

"When you lose that structure, you don’t have to get out of bed, you lose that level of responsibility; you have no one to reach out to and talk with, all of a sudden it becomes very dark and there’s nothing to look forward to. It’s important for us to give back and do what we can to prevent any further suicides from happening."

Mara Grunau, the executive director at the Centre for Suicide Prevention, says a sudden lack of structure can have a profound impact on the mental well-being of anyone facing such a challenge.

"From a social standpoint, hope, belonging, purpose and meaning are very important aspects to us as individuals,” said Grunau.

"A of us really wrestled with our sense of belonging in lockdown. When we don’t have a sense of belonging, what happens to our sense of hope? We really need to find ways to bolster it."

While Deere is hoping to raise up to $10,000 dollars from the dinner, he thinks raising awareness about mental health and suicide prevention will have the greatest impact.

“We need to let people know it’s OK to ask for help, there are resources available, it’s OK to not be OK."

The fundraising dinner is slated to take place at Modern Steak Stephen Avenue on Sunday, June 27 beginning at 5:30 p.m.  

The Centre for Suicide Prevention can be reached at 1-833-456-4566, by texting 45645 or visiting www.suicideinfo.ca.