What I learned from a day at the Parkdale Food Centre

By Brett Serjeantson (member of Parkdale Food Centre board)

When I first came to the Parkdale Food Centre (PFC) in 2006, it was located on the corner of Somerset and Bayswater, where Hintonburg and Little Italy intersect.
I really had no inclination to interact with clients when I first volunteered. For me it was more about unloading the truck and stocking shelves. The anonymity and routine helped to take my mind off of life, while at the same time trying to make a difference.
img_9388-1 Back then, we had to carry food supplied from the Ottawa Food Bank by hand and navigate boxes and crates downstairs. At the time a good back was worth as much as any sunny disposition with clients. But times at the PFC have changed, and for the better.
The PFC’s new Rosemount location is much more central, the facilities are amazing, and unloading the Food Bank truck is now a lot less challenging thanks to the Rosemount elevator. No more navigating down treacherous stairs with heavy boxes.
The emphasis is now where it should be – on clients and volunteers.
That means a greater emphasis on relationships, and ensuring an enjoyable and respectful experience for everyone involved.
But those aren’t the only recent changes.
Over a month ago, PFC Chair Len Fardella asked board members to meet with clients and help them directly with their food requirements. For someone like me, who was essentially a stock boy, it was eye-opening in the extreme.
That’s because no client fits the same profile. Some are single, some are families, some can’t work, some are new to the country. They all had their own unique, yet challenging, situation.
One last thing that was also very apparent was the prevalence of mental health issues.
Mental health has entered the consciousness of our society more than ever before, and there’s now less of a stigma on mental illness than ever. However, we’re all learning to be more accepting and conscientious of the possible causes.
While volunteering that day, I asked myself: how much does a proper diet and hunger affect all of our mental states? 
I, for one, can attest hat having the opportunity to interact with others did wonders for my own mental disposition.
That said, everyone I spoke with after meeting with clients were grateful for the PFC and its volunteers. Clients also pitched in to help one another, and if a volunteer needed help (like myself), they even offered their assistance.
Perspective is a great thing and I was grateful of having the opportunity to be part of the day in the life of the Parkdale Food Centre.

Contact Brett on Twitter – @BSerjeantson

Branching Out Gala – Amazing success!

On Thursday June 23rd, we hosted our third annual Gala – Branching Out – at the GCTC. We were thrilled with the location which gave us more space for our amazing crowd to mix and mingle.   The crowd was a great mix of donors, foodies, volunteers, Board Members, community supporters and some neighbours were thrilled to attend thanks to some tickets that were donated.  Our goal was to raise $20,000 which would pay for two months of our summer grocery bills.  We came tantalizingly close at $17,800.  We were thrilled with the generosity of everyone who attended and are determined next year will be the year we break $20,000!  Our shelves will be stocked over the summer months when we typically struggle to keep up with demand when many of our donors are away on summer vacations.

Photo by Paula Roy

We couldn’t put on the event without the amazing generosity of our food and drink providers.  Food stations by Absinthe, Allium, Bar Laurel, DISH, Holland’s Cake & Shake, Supply and Demand, Thyme & Again, and Urban Element.  Folks were raving about the food all night.  

Daniel Ramjattan brought his amazing Cuban guitar music.  We also thank the crew at GCTC including Amelia and Catharine for being wonderful to work with.  A special thanks to Sheila Whyte for donating a crew of amazing servers from Thyme & Again which kept the evening flowing perfectly.  

Beyond the Pale generously provided an array of delicious local brews and guests enjoyed wine provided by Diamond Estate Winery c/o Liam Doody and Reif Estate Winery c/o Roger Linton/Linarc Consulting.  

The Silent Auction tables upstairs and downstairs were busy with amazing prizes.  Bidding was fierce!  We were thrilled with the generosity of local business owners who provided great prizes to help us meet our fundraising target.  The hottest prize of the night went to a Private Shopping Experience by Twiss & Weber followed closely by an amazing travel credit provided by VIA Rail.  Other great prizes included donations from Gallery 3, Uproar Paint and Paper, Diane and Jen, and Escape Manor were just a few of the generous donors who provided prizes for the auction.  We had many happy prize winners at the end of the night and a few folks regretting they hadn’t placed that last bid in time!

It was wonderful to have 13Muesli on hand to both give out samples during the evening and also hand out a bag as a thank you to all the party goers on the way out.  They are close to wrapping up their year and we were bursting with pride to see their confidence in sharing with folks what the program has meant to them.

Our community helpers from Fisher Park Summit were there to greet folks at the door and also helped to raise enthusiasm at our Photo wall.  These helpers volunteer regularly at our Centre and truly understand the various programs we offer our neighbours.

We were also happy to have a video crew lead by Roberta Bouchard with camera folks Ryan and Nick.  We got some great clips of guests chatting about the Centre and please watch for a new video coming up where we share the thoughts out to you all.

The Photo wall was new for us.  A way to share all the different programs we offer to our neighbours.  It was also wonderful to read the many thoughtful responses to the questions of Parkdale is … , Food is…, Hunger is… and Community is….. . We took all the amazing responses and are planning to display them up on the walls of the Centre very soon.

When we look at how far this event has come in three years it is reflective of how far the Parkdale Food Centre has come.  The supporters are many but the need remains.  It’s our largest event of the year but we feel the community support.  Thanks to all of you for letting us raise the funds we need to support your neighbours.

Until next year!

Photos below by JR Photography

Sprouting Community Gala — Sold out, $15K raised, and a surprise award all in the same evening!

On May 7th, the Parkdale Food Centre was the venue for our 2nd Annual “Sprouting Community Gala”. We were thrilled to open our new space to many folks who hadn’t yet had a chance to tour it.

It was a lovely warm evening and the party even spilled out onto the back deck! (People were curious to see how our Community Garden was coming along). We transformed the Centre with Brussel Sprout-filled mason jars, twinkle lights and Brussel Sprout centerpieces. (We also learned that Brussel Sprouts confined in mason jars and a warm location for a long time sweat quite a bit!) After the Gala the mason jars were put away until our fall canning workshops and the Brussel Sprouts were fried up to make a delicious snack for our neighbours – we waste nothing!

IMG_3944  IMG_4057

We also had a huge surprise — just as we were about to thank everyone for attending and pull the lucky ticket winner for 2 tickets anywhere Porter Airlines flies — to be greeted by Rabbi Bulka. On behalf of the United Way, he presented our organization with a Community Builder award. We had absolutely no idea he was coming! His amused smile as we scrambled to re-jig our agenda was quite funny!


We then made him pose with our Board Chair, Treasurer, Director and Jeff Leiper outside in front of our Reverse Food truck. Watch for this truck hitting the streets over the next few weeks!


A spirit of warmth and friendship infused the evening as our volunteers, PFC Patrons, and neighbours came together to help raise funds to support the Centre’s mounting grocery bills over the summer. Terry Owen from Buzztone Productions entertained the crowd, wandering around with his jazz saxophone. Thank you to Edelweiss for their donation of some of the rentals.

Throughout the evening, our  “gala goers” were treated to some memorable morsels from our friends at The Urban Element, Dish Catering, Absinthe, and Supply & Demand. Desserts were on hand from Holland Cake & Shake and The Merry Dairy cart, which our volunteer Ben wheeled around — chased by fans of the Merry Dairy!

IMG_3974  IMG_4014
IMG_4050  IMG_3978
IMG_3958  IMG_3949

Beyond the Pale generously provided an array of delicious local brews and guests also enjoyed a special sangria from Dish Catering!

IMG_3990  IMG_3952

Guests also had a chance to bid on a fantastic lineup of Silent Auction prizes. The generosity of local business owners who provided great prizes to help us meet our fundraising target was incredible, and the silent auction included: Twiss & Weber, Historic Building Co, Saslove’s, Beyond the Pale, Gallery 3, Agave, Uproar, Kitchenalia, Merge, and the GCTC. The bidding was brisk & competitive.  We had many happy prize winners and many of the items went over value!

IMG_4044 IMG_3956

It was a fantastic evening. Thanks to everyone’s generosity we were able to meet our fundraising goal and raise $15,000 in a single night!  These funds will help us stock our shelves over the summer months, when we typically struggle to keep up with demand during a time when many of our donors are away on summer vacation. Our monthly grocery bills have mounted to over $9,000 in recent months, due to an increase in the number of neighbours we help and an increase in the number of programs we run. We couldn’t continue to run all of our programs without such a giving Community.

This was our first foray into a hosting a large-scale event in our new space and we were thrilled to show it off. A special thanks to many of our neighbours who came to give it a good cleaning in advance, since they are so proud of the space and wanted it to gleam. Also a special thanks to the extended gang from Dish Catering, who donated their time to help us be able to run our event smoothly! Thanks also to the Fundraising Committee for all the work ahead of time and on the day of. You guys were amazing!

We hope to see you at next year’s Gala! We’re already counting down the days.

Fisher Summit Community Helpers

This year Fisher Park / Summit Alternative School has been actively involved in the process of community building. Our students have engaged in hygiene-kit fundraising drives, healthy food drives, as well as providing hands-on service to support their fellow community members. This student initiative to act as “good neighbours” emanates from a challenge posed by Karen Secord, the executive director of the Parkdale Food Centre. Upon visiting our classroom in the fall of 2014, Karen challenged the students to become good-will ambassadors for those Kitchissippi residents facing the perils associated with food-insecurity.

The students embraced Karen’s challenge, organizing an extra-curricular group (the Fisher Summit Community Helpers), and quickly began the process of engaging with their community from a social justice perspective. Through their initiative, organization, and determination our students have helped to nourish the residents of Kitchissippi, strengthening our community as a whole. Most importantly, these students have extended dignity into the lives of their neighbours. As a culminating activity, the students who formed our Fisher Summit Community Helpers group, decided that they would like to see first hand what the Parkdale Food Centre offers to the community.

Following our visit in early April, and after a glorious year of working with Karen and the PFC, here is what our kids took away from their experience at the Centre:

During our trip to the PFC I felt happy, and that I was helping in the community. While volunteering at the PFC I experienced making memories with my friends that I will never forget and having a sense of meaning. The tasks that I completed to help the day-to-day operations at the PFC were helping around the kitchen. Completing these tasks revealed to me that you have to take responsibility and that you should cherish what you have because you are privileged.

During our trip to the PFC I felt …I felt really proud that I was part of the group, and really happy because we were helping people that needed it. While volunteering at the PFC I experienced …hope, because I wanted to go to help again, as well as see more people at the Centre. The tasks that I completed to help the day-to-day operations at the PFC were … I helped make some of the best smelling muffins that I have ever smelled. I was in charge of smashing bananas for the muffins.

During our trip to the PFC I felt very good because I felt like I was doing something to help my community. I had this warm fuzzy feeling inside. It felt awesome to help. While volunteering at the PFC I experienced feelings of accomplishment and pride when I finished a task. The tasks that I completed to help the day-to-day operations at the PFC were getting the fruit and veggies from Karen’s car and helping sort them all. Completing these tasks revealed to me that the Parkdale Food Center really tries to help keep our community healthy because everyone deserves to be healthy no matter what your living conditions are.

During our trip to the PFC I felt very happy to know that I was helping out the less fortunate in my community. I also felt shocked to see how many people so near where I live need to use a facility like this. While volunteering at the PFC I experienced happiness and joy while being with friends and helping others. The tasks that I completed to help the day-to-day operations at the PFC were sorting and stacking vegetables and fruit. Completing these tasks revealed to me the amount of care they put into all the things they do. We had to put all of the produce that was bruised, or damaged in a box, and these items would then be used to cook or bake other things.

During our trip to the PFC I felt … honoured to have been there, and happy that I was helping other people. The tasks that I completed to help the day-to-day operations at the PFC were … Completing these tasks revealed to me … When I was there I made banana muffins and it made me realize that every effort, no matter how small, helps a lot.

During our trip to the PFC I felt … like I was helping the community. The tasks that I completed to help the day-to-day operations at the PFC were … bagging foods and putting them in the right place. Completing these tasks revealed to me … that we need to be grateful for what we have, and to stop complaining 🙂

The words of children carry so much weight, and when these words are derived from a place of equity and social justice, they have the power to transform a community. Thank you to Karen, and the entire Parkdale Food Centre team for challenging our students to actively engage in their neighbourhood. This is the generation that we have been waiting for! More to come from Fisher / Summit during the 2015-2016 school year.

The Wellington Record Club

The lights are dimmed, candles are lit, cell phones are switched off, and the unmistakable sound of a needle hitting a groove means another meeting of the Wellington Record Club is underway.

Photo Credit: Rob Riendeau

I first took the idea of a record listening club to Shane at the Wellington Gastropub about three years ago, based on a BBC article about similar groups in the UK. I knew that Shane loved music, and had similar tastes to me, and I felt the pub’s White Room would be a suitable venue. Shane took my simple idea and created something far better than I had ever envisaged, partnering with a local speaker manufacturer, breweries and record stores to provide monthly meetings that quickly became popular amongst the city’s music lovers for the high-quality listening experience. Notably, all proceeds from the meetings are donated to the Parkdale Food Centre – between $400 and $500 each month.

The idea behind the Record Club is to actively sit and listen to an entire album (or two) on vinyl, with no distractions – something unusual for many of us in an age where we have thousands of songs on our phones but often play music without really listening, it’s just background while driving, working or being otherwise occupied. To help promote focused listening, we have a few light-hearted ‘rules’ for the duration of each record – mainly that cell phones should be switched off and no talking until the music is over, at which time lively discussions about what we just heard usually arise.

The high-quality listening experience is provided by a pair of amazing Tetra Speakers, developed and built right here in Ottawa by Adrian Butts. They have to be heard to be believed, but the most frequent comment we hear is along the lines of “I’ve listened to that album countless times but tonight I heard things I’ve never heard before”.

The records we play are sourced either from our own collections, or from stores such as Compact Music and Hintonburg’s The Record Centre. The 23 meetings held to date have leaned heavily towards Shane and my tastes – English indie/alternative/classic rock, with Radiohead, the Beatles and the Clash amongst the early selections, and the most recent being a pair of meetings a week apart during which we listened to Led Zeppelin’s first four albums. We are looking to diversify the offerings and each meeting a sheet is passed around for attendees to suggest music for future evenings.

Before the music starts, the folks at the meeting enjoy delicious canapés provided by the Gastropub, and beer donated by Beaus or occasionally another brewery. The venue, food and beer are all provided by the Gastropub and kind supporters, enabling 100% of the requested $25 donation from each person to be passed directly on to the Parkdale Food Centre.

The only problem with Record Club is that there is so much music that we all want to listen to, that one meeting a month never seems like enough!

If you would be interested in attending a future meeting and helping to raise funds for the Parkdale Food Centre, follow @thegastroub on Twitter, or check the pub’s website at http://www.thewellingtongastropub.com/

Thanks to PFC supporter (and Wellington Record Club regular Ian Brown) for this guest post, and to Rob Riendeau for the photo, above! 

Inspired by neighbourhood generosity


Over the March break, I collected food for the Parkdale Food Centre. I collected it because my teacher was having a draw to go to “National We Day” in Ottawa. To get your name put in, you had to do two or more acts of community service. So, I went door to door around my neighbourhood collecting food.  My neighbours were extremely generous. I also made applesauce muffins for the food centre, and I helped at my school’s Bookfest.

After I collected the food, I dropped it off at the Parkdale Food Centre. When I dropped off the food someone gave me a tour of the centre. It was amazing, they had a big kitchen for cooking meals, and I got to see how the system works, what kind of food the clients got, where they store all of food, and how they help people. Finally at the end of the tour they talked to me about why the food centre is important, like some people need to use all their money to pay their electricity bill so they can’t afford food. Then Karen the manager gave me a hug. 🙂

The entire experience made me want to help people.

– Poppy, Grade 6

Thanks Poppy, for this guest post on our blog, and for visiting us at the PFC. Your generosity (and the generosity of your neighbours) means a lot to our neighbours, too!

Sprouting our Garden

Several keen volunteers braved the blowing snow and wind on Friday to help launch Parkdale Food Centre’s backyard garden.


Using newspaper and soil donated from Home Hardware, we planted 75 tomato seeds into small pots. Once the seeds grow into seedlings, some will be planted in the garden and others will be shared with neighbours for their home gardens.


Tom, a master gardener who is also one of the Centre’s cooking workshop leaders, stands in front of the space of our future vegetable garden.


Over the next few weeks and months the site will be transformed into a thriving garden with raised beds, trellises, pots and benches. The garden will be a demonstration site for growing food, and a place to gather to share ideas, inspiration and experience.

Happy Birthday Beyond the Pale!

photo 1

Friends and fans turned out en masse at the Orange Gallery to celebrate Beyond the Pale’s 2nd Birthday! Rob, Shane and Al had a full crew on hand pouring BTP pints while DJ Devin Atherton spun some sweet 80’s vinyl and kept the dance floor jumping “all night long”! Oh yes, Mr. Lionel Ritchie was in the house.

photo 3

Union 613 dished out a Fritos flavor fiesta and Holland’s Cake and Shake fogged things up with some beer-spiked ice rocks (dry ice included!) and one deliciously decadent birthday cake!

photo 2

The Orange Gallery provided the ideal space for a lively and energetic celebration. Work by local artists created plenty of opportunities for interaction and conversation and the original hardwood floors were the perfect platform for a night of non-stop revelry.

Beyond the Pale has been a dedicated supporter of the Parkdale Food Centre from the very beginning and this night was no exception. The event raised $2100 for the Centre’s healthy food programs for our neighbours in need.


Thank you to Beyond the Pale, The Orange Gallery, Union 613 and Holland’s Cake and Shake for being such great community partners and friends. We can’t wait for Birthday # 3!

The Art of Sharing

On a frosty November night last week, Cindy Scott and Roger Bryanton opened their home to friends and neighbours, artists and art lovers at their first “Pop Up” Living Room Art Show in support of the Parkdale Food Centre. Featuring local artists Christopher Griffin and Nicole Allen, the evening was a relaxed and intimate gathering where guests could mingle, meet the artists and learn more about their work.

The evening featured works from Christopher Griffin’s recent collections, including a colorful array of hypnotic nudes, paintings from his ‘Portage’ and ‘Panama’ series and a beautiful caribou etched in cement.

DSC_6772Christopher	Griffin’s	hypnotic	nudes

Christopher Griffin’s hypnotic nudes / Christopher Griffin and a piece from his recent Portage Series

Nicole Allen’s work included vibrant florals, forest scenes and her whimsical series of “cheeky birds”, which were snapped up faster than you can say “chickadee”!

Nicole Allen’s vibrant canvasesDSC_6771

Nicole Allen’s vibrant canvases, Cheeky Birds, and bold blooms

While the atmosphere was relaxed, the buying was brisk! Christopher’s nudes were a hot item for pre-holiday shoppers while far-flung friends called in on Skype to purchase several of Nicole’s colourful canvases. The event raised over $2200 for the Centre.


Guests mingle at ‘Pop Up’ Gallery


PFC Board Member Hilary McVey visits with Sue Ann Wright – happy new owner of one of Christopher’s paintings

Karen Secord and Hilary McVey were on hand to mingle with guests and share more information on the Centre’s upcoming move to 30 Rosemount Avenue and its plans for 2015. With the holidays just around the corner, the evening was the perfect way to celebrate the spirit of the season. Thanks to all of the art lovers who came out to lend their support and special thanks to Cindy, Roger, Christopher and Nicole for their enthusiasm and generosity.


Sincere thanks to Cindy Scott, Nicole Allen and Christopher Griffin for your creativity and generosity

Thank you to our holiday campaign volunteers!

A heartfelt thank you to all our elves!  This year’s holiday postcards have been delivered!


It took a small army of volunteers, board members, teenagers, friends, senior citizens, neighbours who use PFC, and families delivering with kids in tow, to deliver this year’s batch of red postcards in support of our Holiday Giving Campaign out into Kitchissippi!  Here’s hoping our message of “Good Food Helping Good People” catches people’s attention.


For the last two years we’ve saved on the cost of postage and used the power of the people to walk out across 19 mini-routes within our catchment area, between Breezehill and Island Park, and from the river to Carling.  After it’s done, many of us remark that we appreciate our mail delivery people so much more – everyone’s mailbox is in a different spot!

We love hearing stories about how people love the postcards so much they put them up on their fridges!