Since Covid-19 forced restaurants to close local chefs have rallied together to help the city’s most vulnerable people — by cooking, of course! Along the way, they are showing that food is medicine, and democratizing access to high-quality meals.
Jessie Duffy — owner of Arlington 5 and longtime member of the restaurant community — tried a Covid-safe offering at the cafe, but she said it didn’t seem like the right thing to do. Jo-Anne Laverty at Marcie’s Cafe had the same feeling, and she knew from her time building 13 Muesli at the Parkdale Food Centre with Karen Secord that there are ways to execute creative, progressive programs focused on great healthy food.
“We all wanted to make food, and get it where it needs to go,” says Duffy. In talking with Secord and Laverty, she learned that hampers of non-perishable goods — dry pasta, canned goods, and other things that need to be heated — that are often provided to vulnerable people do not work for people living on the street. They need grab-and-go fare.
“My new regular customers are folks that use the harm reduction program at Sandy Hill Community Centre, they’re often homeless,” says Duffy. “They already had it hard, and now… it’s kind of terrifying.” For these people, Duffy makes nourishing sandwiches that can be popped in a backpack.
Also cooking for the cause is Jessica Carpinone of Bread By Us, Chris Deraiche of The Wellington Gastropub; a server Duffy knew from years at Wilf & Ada is helping with deliveries. Together, they received initial funding from the Ottawa Community Foundation, but were urged to fundraise on their own as well to ensure the program can continue for months to come.
Duffy says she always wanted Arlington 5 to be a community space, but notes that tea-drinkers working on their master’s thesis for hours in the cafe weren’t paying the bills. “This puts the social impact at the centre of everything.”
There’s also the financial aspect. “This is a lifeline for me,” says Duffy, who took over as owner in September 2019. “I’m up to my eyeballs in debt.”
To donate to Cooking for a Cause, visit their website.
Meanwhile, the Food for Thought team, spearheaded by chefs Joe Thottungal of Cocount Lagoon and Sylvain de Margerie, and involving a long list of Ottawa chefs, have built a team of volunteer drivers, food packers, chefs, donors, and distributors. That crew is bringing hot lunches to people living in hotels that don’t have cooking facilities. And they’re doing it all out of the spacious Thali.
“Thali is more than a business,” says Thottungal. “We will always prioritize giving back to the community that has supported us for so long. By opening up the Thali kitchen to help this issue, it has really filled our hearts during this pandemic!”
Since the first meal was served on March 24, the team has delivered more than 20,000 — but they still need your help.
Visit the Food for Thought website to donate and learn more about this initiative.