Gary Zed's holiday campaign projected to pass $1M; extended through winter

Purchases of goods and services from Ottawa small businesses to help community's most vulnerable
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From left, Gary Zed with his fiancée, Liza Mrak, and sons Liam and Colin (absent is daughter Olivia) on Tuesday, Dec. 22, 2020 at a BBQ to feed the hungry at The Ottawa Mission as one of more than a dozen community projects launched by Zed and his family to help local charities and small businesses. Photo by Caroline Phillips
Editor's Note

OBJ.social is supported by the generous patronage of Mark MotorsMarilyn Wilson Dream Properties and Sparks Dental. Read their stories here.

A series of holiday campaigns launched by Ottawa philanthropist Gary Zed and his family to aid both small business and charity has more legs than an entire fleet of flying reindeer.

The successful investor and entrepreneur started spreading his goodwill at the start of December with a $100,000 gift. It’s since been matched by enough business leaders to push the campaign past the $800,000 mark, and counting. Zed was contacted by the donors – some entirely out of the blue – after they read about his matching campaign.

Zed plans to keep making an impact, long after the last needle-shedding Christmas tree gets tossed to the curb. He believes it’s crucial the campaign continues during the tough winter months.

“Hunger and homelessness don’t have a start and stop on the holiday calendar,” he said in an interview, while he and his children prepared to host a large BBQ for those who rely on The Ottawa Mission for meals.

Among the big donors to match the Zed family gift were: Smart Living Properties CEO Tamer Abaza, Broccolini Construction COO Anthony Broccolini, Modern Niagara Group CEO Brad McAninch, CLV Group and InterRent REIT CEO Mike McGahan and Farm Boy partner Jeff York. They are reaching out to their own networks to multiply the giving, said Zed, who, similarly, is still planning to tap into his own connections.

“I’ll be honest, we have not really pushed this (campaign) hard yet.” 

It’s not about donating either the whole shebang or nothing at all; every drop has a ripple effect, said Zed.

“While there are those who can afford to give larger amounts, any amount truly does have an impact.”

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Tamer Abaza founder and owner of Smart Living Properties, seen with his chief business officer Rowland Gordon, at The Ottawa Mission on Tuesday, Dec. 22, 2020, is among the business leaders to match a $100K campaign launched by Ottawa philanthropist Gary Zed to jointly help local charities and business make it through the winter. Photo by Caroline Phillips
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From left, Sylvie Corbin, Angie Kelly and Jenn Graves from The Ottawa Mission Foundation with Peter Tilley, CEO of The Ottawa Mission, at the "Summer Festivus" BBQ hosted Tuesday, Dec. 22, 2020, by Ottawa entrepreneur and investor Gary Zed as part of a series of projects he's funding to help the city's most vulnerable. Photo by Caroline Phillips

Zed acknowledged there are many generous people in town who prefer to do their philanthropy quietly and privately.

"It’s not like I’m sitting on some soapbox and saying I’m the only one who’s giving. I’m trying to create the buzz, the momentum for other people to say, ‘Why not?’. And, the fact is, it's working because I know we will exceed $1 million." 

Key to Zed’s giving campaigns is boosting small businesses during the coronavirus pandemic. He’s been buying meals, gift cards and warm clothing from local restaurants and retail stores, allowing the owners to earn a few bucks. All his purchases help Ottawa’s most vulnerable.

“Cash in the bank lifts the spirits of the small business owners. It gives them a sense of hope that emboldens them to push forward with their passion, and see there is a light at the end of this reasonably dark tunnel, especially now with the new round of lockdowns."

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Rosario Versace, owner of Bentons men's clothing store at 240 Sparks St., had 150 pairs of long underwear ready to be delivered to The Ottawa Mission and Shepherds of Good Hope, as part of a community project funded by Gary Zed. Photo by Caroline Phillips

Ultimately, it’s about “keeping the wheels of the machine moving,” said Zed of the group's efforts to assist small business and their employees. “Staff are like family for these business owners.”

He purchased 200 gift cards from Morning Owl Coffeehouse at 219 Laurier Ave. W. to be handed out to shelter clients of The Ottawa Mission on Christmas Day. 

"I just can't get over what a generous gesture this is, helping out small businesses that are really hurting," said coffee shop owner Todd Simpson, who threw in an extra 25 gift cards for The Ottawa Mission. It's an organization he's always tried hard to support.

Simpson told OBJ.social that business has dropped by 90 to 95 per cent since the pandemic first hit. Most of his customers are public servants who are now working from home. His downtown coffeehouse used to serve more than 400 people daily. Now, he's lucky to have 50 customers a day.

"It's devastating," he said.

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Todd Simpson, owner of Morning Owl at 219 Laurier Ave. W., delivered 200 gift cards to his coffeehouse, purchased by Gary Zed. Simpson donated an extra 25. Photo by Caroline Phillips
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Chuck Shabsove, president of Capital BBQ, helped to grill 300 sausages to feed the hungry at The Ottawa Mission during a "Summer Festivus" BBQ hosted Tuesday, Dec. 22, 2020, by Ottawa philanthropist Gary Zed. Photo by Caroline Phillips

The funny thing is, even during their greatest time of need, small businesses are much more comfortable with helping others than being helped, Zed has learned. He had a difficult time convincing the owners to accept his generosity and, in many cases, they still insisted on contributing extra.

“Thousands of businesses in our community are experiencing something almost cataclysmic, yet when I called many of them to say I want to support them, do you know what their first question was? ‘What can we do to help?’” said Zed incredulously. “It’s in their DNA. I almost forcefully needed to say, ‘No, like, you’ve done enough. We've got this. It’s time to return the favour’.

“It's just a reminder of how generous, supportive and caring the small business community has been,” he added. “Our entrepreneurs just continue to inspire me with awe.”

Ottawa businesses assisted by the Zed family's holiday campaigns

Vittoria Trattoria, Fratelli, Essence Catering, North & Navy, Cafe Mio, Petit Bill's Bistro, Wellington Gastro Pub, Supply & Demand, The Savoy,  Stofa, La Bottega,  Zak's Diner, Tasha's, Infinity Centre, Revival Pizza, BiBi's, Ola Cocina, Morning Owl, The Works Glebe, Mama Teresa, Gabriel Pizza, Von’s Bistro, Slipacoff’s Premium Meats, Capital BBQ, Wolf Down, Bentons Menswear, Bushtukah, Colonnade Pizza

Zed’s hands-on holiday campaigns are currently focused on the Shepherds of Good Hope and The Ottawa Mission. They help the underdogs of underdogs: homeless people battling addictions and mental illness.

He will focus on the Ottawa Food Bank after the holidays. That’s when the charity will be in greatest need of help, he said. 

Zed has also given to a nonprofit very close to his heart: the Boys and Girls Club of Ottawa. He and fiancée Liza Mrak, co-owner of Mark Motors’ luxury car dealerships, donated a combined $20,000, which was matched by other loyal supporters to raise a total of $75,000 for its holiday hampers. The organization is able to distribute twice as many food hampers this year to BGCO kids and their families.

As well, Zed bought 100 gift cards, worth $100 each, from 10 local restaurants. They are being given away, in a draw, to frontline workers at The Ottawa Hospital as a way of thanking them for their efforts. 

Zed admits he’s spending more money on the community projects than he originally intended.

“But I’m entirely happy about it, and I am lucky to have the support of the business leaders in the city who have stepped up,” he added. “Sometimes, I get a few goosebumps because it’s such a good feeling.”

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From left, Chef Ric Watson, director of food services at The Ottawa Mission, with Gary Zed, who hosted a "Summer Festivus" BBQ at The Ottawa Mission on Tuesday, Dec. 22, 2020, as a part of a series of community projects he's funding to jointly help local charities and small business. Photo by Caroline Phillips

Zed said he’d ultimately like the campaigns to assist more groups, including women’s shelters and other nonprofits that focus on food insecurity and poverty reduction, such as the Parkdale Food Centre. He’s providing some guidance to donors of his matching campaign on how they can direct their money in an impactful way.

“There are lots of other organizations in this city that need support and we are working on a place to help as many as we can in the short term,” said Zed, who’s also a family office adviser to many of Ottawa's ultra-wealthy families. “For me, now, it’s mostly about taking advantage of the spirit of giving and leaning on people and saying, ‘You know what? We’re all pretty lucky. If you can dig in just a bit, great.'”

Zed was awarded a Governor General’s medal for his volunteer work in 2017 and was named Outstanding Volunteer Philanthropist by the Ottawa chapter of the Association of Fundraising Professionals in 2016.

Gary Zed’s Philanthropic To-Do List for the Holidays And Beyond

  • Launch of 25 Days of Christmas campaign for the Shepherds of Good Hope, involving Zed’s donation of $1,000 a day while successfully issuing a challenge for others to match the funds.
  • Purchase of $10,000 worth of gift certificates for Gabriel Pizza to be included in the holiday food hampers distributed to kids at the Boys and Girls of Ottawa. 
  • Purchase and delivery of more than $2,000 worth of food from La Bottega to the Shepherds of Good Hope.
  • Purchase and delivery of 100 breakfast meals from Zak’s Diner to residents of the Shepherds of Good Hope’s supportive housing program in Kanata.
  • Purchase and delivery of 300 sandwich wraps from Tasha’s Fine Foods to the Shepherds of Good Hope.
  • Purchase of 100 gift cards, worth $100 each, from 10 restaurants to be given away, in a draw, to frontline workers at The Ottawa Hospital.
  • Purchase of 200 gift cards from Morning Owl Coffeehouse on Laurier Avenue to be given as gifts on Christmas Day for men who rely on The Ottawa Mission for shelter.
  • Purchase of 150 pairs of long underwear from Bentons Menswear for clients of The Ottawa Mission and Shepherds of Good Hope.
  • Virtual concert by Dave Kalil, “Ottawa’s Piano Man”, in support of Shepherds of Good Hope with Zed matching five times the tip jar.
  • Host a “Summer Festivus” BBQ at The Ottawa Mission for men living at its shelter and for clients of its community meal program. 
  • Purchase and deliver 250 turkey dinners to the Shepherds of Good Hope, on Christmas Eve, for the men and women at the shelters. The meals are being prepared by the Infinity Convention Centre.
  • Purchase of winter boots from outdoor equipment store Bushtukah for homeless men who arrive at The Ottawa Mission without proper clothing or footwear.
  • Fifty pizzas from Colonnade Pizza to be delivered to The Ottawa Mission.
  • Provide a week’s worth of hot meals in January with award-winning chef and philanthropist Joe Thottungal, owner of Coconut Lagoon and Thali restaurants. The food will be delivered from The Ottawa Mission’s food truck, which has been visiting 13 locations across the city, serving more than 2,000 meals a week to people who’d otherwise go hungry.

— caroline@obj.ca