Philanthropy in Ottawa: Chef cooks with kindness during a crisis

BY: Sam Laprade for Ottawa Business Journal 


Who: Chef Joe Thottungal, owner, Thali and Coconut Lagoon
The donation: More than $55,000 from donors and vendors
The recipients: Vulnerable Ottawa residents
The inspiration: “I measure success on how I support my neighbour and fill someone’s heart with a meal. When we care about other people it makes us a richer person.” – Chef Joe Thottungal.

As COVID-19 started to wreak havoc around the world, Joe Thottungal – a national award-winning, brilliant and humble Ottawa-based chef – was in India for a culinary tour. Thottungal quickly rushed home to Ottawa to his loving family, dedicated staff and beloved restaurants.

The owner of Thali and Coconut Lagoon knew the pandemic would create hardships for many people, including his staff who would be without work and many vulnerable residents who would go hungry.

Sitting back was not an option for Thottungal. He quickly turned to what he knew best and started to cook.  

Thottungal transformed the kitchen at Thali to cook food for the most vulnerable people in the city by collaborating with several other talented chefs who donated their time. Thottungal knew that bringing together the likes of Kent Van Dyk, Jishnu Sreenivasan, Scot Cunningham and many other volunteer chefs would be a recipe of kindness for the people of Ottaw

Their collective culinary efforts resulted in more than 70,000 meals for people who are homeless, families living in hotels and individuals who simply cannot make ends meet during the crisis. Generous donors and vendors gave more than $55,000 in food and supplies.

“I did not come from the best situation. I know first-hand how difficult it can be for people,” Thottungal says. “People can fall through the cracks and our goal was to ensure everyone who wanted a meal received one. No questions asked.”

“Whether the people needing the food were newcomers to Canada or they were fleeing domestic violence or just down on their luck, eating a good meal is a right,” he adds.

At the height of the pandemic, tragedy struck Thottungal’s restaurant at the corner of St. Laurent Boulevard and McArthur Avenue. A fire raged through the popular gathering place on May 22, severely damaging the building.

But the setback did not deter the chef from his work feeding people. In fact, he was more determined than ever to help his community.

Thottungal is being recognized for his generosity, inspiration and community spirit this year by being named the recipient of the Ottawa Chapter of the Association of Fundraising Professionals’ Individual Philanthropist Award.

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Building Courage, Together: How One New Canadian Landed Work She Loves

For Jaipreet Kaur, a new mentoring program in Ottawa has helped her forge her dream career.

Trying to land a career you’re passionate about can be challenging for anyone. But it can be especially difficult if you’re emigrating from northern India to Canada with a science degree, a dream of working in the nonprofit world, and no contacts to help you make that transition.

This is the situation Jaipreet Kaur found herself in two years ago.

From Northern India to Ottawa

Everything was different for Jaipreet when she left her home in India for a work-study program in Ottawa. It wasn’t just the obvious differences: like that Punjabi could no longer be heard on every street, or that the average temperature of her new home went from 24 °C to a frigid 6 °C.

It was also the little things: like how at Algonquin College, where Jaipreet was studying environmental and project management, it was no longer about cramming for an end-of-course exam that counted for 100 per cent of her grade. Now all the coursework she handed in throughout her semester counted for her final mark.

But the hardest part of all about leaving her home in Jalandhar? When you move to a new continent alone, you also leave behind everyone you’ve ever known.

To make the transition easier, Jaipreet initially lived with an Indian family in Ottawa. But that family was not her own. Her family was 6,000 miles away, on the other side of the Atlantic ocean.

Hard Work and Networking

Jaipreet is nothing if not tenacious. Despite her homesickness, she thrived. She worked part-time at a Subway to help pay her bills. She moved into a new place in the city. She looked for any opportunities that might help her transition into her dream career.

While studying at Algonquin, Jaipreet discovered an opportunity called Fundraising Day put on by The Association of Fundraising Professionals (AFP) in Ottawa with support from the RBC Foundation. The AFP created the first fundraising mentorship program in Canada. The event matched 50 young people with 50 industry professionals.

Jaipreet was one of those young people at the inaugural event. For her mentor, she was matched up with Jeff Todd, Director of Communications at The Foundation WCPD, a charitable advisory firm, and a volunteer with the AFP Ottawa Chapter.

Growing from Mentorship

A mentor-mentee relationship isn’t built in a day. Before the pandemic made it necessary to cancel in-person events, Jaipreet had begun shadowing Jeff at philanthropic events to make contacts and build her professional network. When she mentioned she was looking for a summer internship, Jeff knew where she could test her project management skills in the real world: at The Foundation WCPD.

“Despite the situation, we were able to move forward with the program” says Jeff. “We had to pivot, of course. But essentially, all of the protégés now have had access to our virtual networking and training sessions. They have also been given free membership to AFP Ottawa for a full year. We are looking at doing a virtual session specifically geared to young professionals as well this summer.”

The internship at The Foundation grew into an offer of a full-time position for Jaipreet. She continues working with Jeff and the team at The Foundation and hopes to continue her work with the organization in the future. After all, despite all the differences between Ottawa and Jalandhar — and the challenges of staying focused during the pandemic — Jaipreet still says, “Canada is home.”

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WCPD plays leading role in Weizmann’s ‘Movie under the stars!’

Sold-out event to support Weizmann Canada’s Women for Science initiative, to empower, celebrate and promote women in science.

“We are so grateful for WCPD’s support of Weizmann Canada’s Women for Science. Not only did this event help to shine a bigger spotlight on science in this critical time, it also was a meaningful investment in enabling the safe in-person gathering of our Montreal community. We are truly grateful for WCPD’s gracious leadership.”

Karine Cohen-Scali
Weizmann Canada’s Women for Science National Chair

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Philanthropy in Ottawa: RBC helps NAC ensure the shows go on

BY: Sam Laprade

Who: RBC Royal Bank

The donation: $200,000

The recipient: National Arts Centre Foundation

The inspiration: “At RBC we have a long standing tradition of supporting the arts as it is about building community.” – Marjolaine Hudon, regional president, Ontario North and East, RBC Royal Bank

When the lights went dark at the National Arts Centre in mid-March amid the COVID-19 outbreak, many artists suddenly found themselves without work. In a twist that made the blow even harder to swallow, many residents turned to the arts during the pandemic for comfort, inspiration and to fill their time with positivity.

In response, the National Arts Centre quickly launched #CanadaPerforms – a short-term relief fund that pays Canadian artists and authors for their online performances – and reached out to RBC and other corporate partners for support. 

RBC assisted this initiative with a $200,000 gift to help ease the financial strain for Canadian artists and authors affected by the closure of performance venues and cancellation or postponements of literary events across Canada related to COVID-19.

The performances were also aimed at lifting the spirits of Canadians during the crisis. Artists and authors who were selected received $1,000 and had their online performance and events promoted on the NAC’s Facebook page.

“When the NAC Foundation approached us about #CanadaPerforms, we realized quickly this was also a fabulous way for emerging artists to gain exposure to new audiences,” says Marjolaine Hudon, regional president for Ontario North and East at RBC Royal Bank.

“As a board member of the National Arts Centre Foundation, I know how important it is to support the arts, but also it is clear how during this time in our lives we have embraced artists and value their talents. We simply needed to step up,” adds Hudon.

The partnership developed even further when RBC and the NAC combined forces with Bluesfest. #CanadaPerforms pivoted to become the RBC Bluesfest Drive-In. This concert series took place at Zibi’s Place des Festivals in Gatineau and featured live performances by nationally recognized recording artists over five nights between July 31 and Aug. 9. The series was designed to provide fans with a live music experience while enabling them to maintain a safe physical distance from one another.

“The NAC Foundation is in awe of the generosity of RBC,” says Jayne Watson, the foundation’s CEO. “We needed to rely on strong corporate partners that could move swiftly and we are grateful on behalf of so many talented artists.”

Over the last 22 years RBC has supported the NAC Foundation to the tune of $1.3 million.

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Philanthropy in Ottawa: Farm Boy gives CHEO Foundation one million reasons to smile

BY: Sam Laprade

Who: Farm Boy and its customers
The donation: $1,000,000
The recipient: CHEO Foundation
The inspiration: “CHEO is accomplishing so much for our community, so it was only natural that at Farm Boy we also make children a pillar of support in the Ottawa area.” – J.J. Hochrein, director of marketing, Farm Boy 

When Farm Boy opened its first store in Cornwall, its owners placed a philanthropic spirit at the heart of their business, agreeing from day one to remain community-oriented and give back to causes that touch the lives of local residents.

The company maintained this philosophy as it grew and expanded into new markets such as Ottawa, where for more than 20 years, Farm Boy has supported the CHEO Foundation through fundraising campaigns, lottery prizes, coupon books, CHEO Bear cookies and much more.

This year, Farm Boy and CHEO are marking a milestone: $1 million in total funds raised through their various campaigns. 

“Farm Boy’s support for CHEO goes far beyond cutting us a cheque,” says Kevin Keohane, president and CEO of the CHEO Foundation. “They want to be engaged and ensure the success of anything they get involved in. They engage their customers, staff, partners and suppliers and show a genuine concern for CHEO and the kids we serve.”

Farm Boy’s support for CHEO dates back to the mid-’90s when it would celebrate the opening of new stores by holding fundraising BBQs and making a donation to CHEO.

In 1998, Farm Boy became the presenting sponsor of the Kiwanis Duck Race for Tiny Hearts at CHEO, a role it maintained through 2004 through financial support, prize donations and ticket sales at all local stores.

In 2002, Farm Boy became a sponsor of the CHEO Dream of a Lifetime Lottery, providing “groceries for a year” as part of the grand prize package.

“When you walk into a Farm Boy store, we want you to experience both a local market and our community spirit. That is why our support of CHEO was so important,” says J.J. Hochrein, Farm Boy’s director of marketing. “When we look back and see the amount of dollars, we are very proud of what we have accomplished for children.”

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