President's Message
I remember walking on Rosemont Avenue off Wellington Street West in Ottawa, wondering about the smell of food that came from a small building tucked between a few larger ones.  Following my nose, I ended up taking the stairs to a basement full of people who were cooking under the watchful eye of a chef.  As everyone was cutting vegetables, fruit, washing dishes, and setting up long tables, the chef was stirring a huge pot and keeping an eye on the crowd around him and talking all the while,
 
The chef, Simon Bell, asked me few questions. At the time, I was volunteering and helping with Syrian refugees coming to Ottawa. I was also chairing the International Service Committee of the Rotary Club of Ottawa.
 
Once I said I wanted to help, he handed me an apron and blue gloves and a large bag full of kale. I knew what he wanted to do: mix it with olive oil and bring the heaping amount to half of its size. Simon smiled and walked away saying I knew what I was doing.  I did mention that I enjoyed cooking and my great grandma, who raised me, was a fantastic chef.
 
Within a couple of weeks, I was invited to a training session where board members of the Parkdale Food Centre were focused on healthy fresh meals served with dignity. I was impressed by the kind approach to feeding some 85 people daily, and I started going every Wednesday to help with the cooking and serving.
 
Chef Simon is very creative on special occasions such as Thanksgiving.  And, for anyone celebrating a birthday, ‘Happy Birthday’ is sung and a special piece of cake served.  Often the leftovers are offered in containers and sometimes saved to feed the school children who visit the centre for a snack. No less than three after-school programs support some 60 children with nutritious meals and snacks!  Of course, covid has affected the whole operation of helping feed hungry folks.  Chef Simon has come up with alternatives such as cooking and freezing meals and calling on the support of limited volunteers to distribute the food to the most affected people.
 
Considering the cost of food, I shifted my volunteering time and fundraising to reach out to Rotarians and businesses in the community to help support the centre.  Despite the increased costs and numbers of people needing help, Parkdale Food Centre keeps on dishing out healthy and tasty meals, and it delivers up to 1,200 meals a month through its grocery program.  It even hosts a weekly virtual cooking workshop with up to 40 participants and drops off a recipe kit to participants’ doors to feed a family of four.
 
Recently, the Rotary Club of Ottawa donated $5,000 to alleviate the challenges and help our community feed people in need.  You, too, can contribute by visiting the Parkdale Food Centre online and giving what you can.  Tax receipts will be issued, as the centre is a charitable organization operating in Ottawa since 1982.
 
Ché Weist, President, Rotary Club of Ottawa 2021 - 2022
 
Ché Weist (left) and Chef Simon Bell (Right)