Business leaders head to Rideau Centre to shop for charity

Meridian Credit Union, TAG HR, Cadillac Fairview support retailers with holiday good deed

From left, Tessa Gerrard, guest services supervisor for Cadillac Fairview, Meridian Credit Union director and team lead Yasser Ghazi and TAG HR chief operating officer Priya Bhaloo at a charity shopping spree held at CF Rideau Centre on Friday, Dec. 15, 2023. Photo by Caroline Phillips
Editor's Note is supported by the generous patronage of Mark Motors and Marilyn Wilson Dream Properties® Inc. Read their stories here.

It was a “shop until you drop” kind of morning for Yasser Ghazi and Priya Bhaloo on Friday.

The young industry leaders embarked with their colleagues on a $7,000 shopping spree at the CF Rideau Centre in support of local charities that help homeless men, women and youth, as well as sick children.

“We’re going to go out and make it happen today,” said Ghazi, director and team lead at financial services company Meridian Credit Union, during an interview at the downtown shopping destination. 

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“We know how tough it is for these charities at this time of year,” said Bhaloo, chief operating officer at local staffing and recruitment firm TAG HR. “The impact is going to be huge.”

Staff from Meridian Credit Union, Cadillac Fairview and TAG HR met at CF Rideau Centre with available representatives from local charities to participate in a shopping spree to help CHEO, Cornerstone Housing for Women, Shepherds of Good Hope and Youth Services Bureau. Photo by Caroline Phillips

The buying binge saw Meridian contribute $3,000. TAG HR donated another $2,000, as did global real estate company Cadillac Fairview. It owns CF Rideau Centre, which is the largest shopping mall in Ottawa and a major destination for residents and visitors.

“I’d love to make this an annual thing,” said Rideau Centre general manager Brian O’Hoski of the positive ripple effect the organizations were jointly having on the retail and charitable sectors.

“We’re able to spend our money in the centre, generate retail sales, help employees, help our retailers, and help those in the community,” said O’Hoski. “I think it’s the ultimate way for us to give back as a landlord.”

The beneficiaries were: pediatric hospital CHEO, Cornerstone Housing for Women, Shepherds of Good Hope and Youth Services Bureau (YSB).

Ghazi arrived at the mall that morning with a stack of Cadillac Fairview gift cards, valid at practically every store in the mall. The teams could confidently shop without worrying about their cards getting immediately declined. And when they do, that’s when we stop,” Ghazi added.

Ghazi and Bhaloo both sit on the board of the Ottawa Board of Trade (OBoT), a non-profit, membership-based association that advocates for local businesses and that promotes business activity and economic development. Bhaloo is board vice chair and a former Forty Under 40 Award recipient.

The idea for the charity shopping spree started nearly two weeks prior, during the annual Christmas Cheer Charity Breakfast. O’Hoski had been a guest at the table co-hosted by OBoT and OBJ. He happened to sit next to Ghazi. The two men got to talking. Topics included decreased foot traffic in the downtown area due to fewer public servants commuting to the office — a workplace trend fast-tracked by the years-long pandemic.

The spending splurge is a way of drawing more attention to a downtown core that has less hustle than it used to. It’s been “amazing” to see the plan come together so quickly, said Ghazi.

O’Hoski said similar collaborations would also work well at other times of the year, when retail sales are slower. “Overall, business is good,” said O’Hoski in reporting a higher spend per customer. The shoppers who are hitting the mall do so with purpose, he said. “They’re not just ‘tire kicking’; they’re buying.”

Ghazi and fellow participants used the giant Christmas tree on display as their rendezvous point.  They divided themselves into teams. Each group was provided with a wish list of items from the beneficiary charities. The plan was to go out for lunch once they were done shopping as a way of continuing their support of local business, said Ghazi. 

It was “humbling” to see some of the items each charity was asking for, whether it was toothpaste, shampoo, deodorant or socks, he said. “It’s just the basic necessities. We forget these little items can really make a big difference for somebody.”

Ghazi and Bhaloo are hoping their shopping spree inspires other businesses to engage in similar acts of philanthropy.

“It doesn’t have to be one organization; you can reach out to friends in the community and support each other,” said Ghazi, who also sits on the board of the Ontario Chamber of Commerce and is former chair of the Young Professionals Advisory Board at Cornerstone Housing for Women. The non-profit provides emergency shelter, supportive housing and outreach services for women at risk for homelessness.

From left, Youth Services Bureau Foundation executive director Patti Murphy and Cornerstone Housing for Women senior program manager Terri George at CF Rideau Centre on Friday, Dec. 15, 2023, for a shopping spree organized by Meridian Credit Union, TAG HR and Cadillac Fairview in support of four local charities. Photo by Caroline Phillips

Present from YSB was the executive director of its foundation, Patti Murphy. The non-profit organization plans to assemble 169 ample-sized holiday bags in total to be gifted to the 64 youth staying in its two shelters and the 105 young people living in their four apartment buildings. Each bag will be filled with practical items, such as laundry detergent, toiletries, hygiene products, and outdoor winter accessories, as well as a chocolate treat and gift card. 

“That holiday gift bag is like pure magic for a young person,” said Murphy. “For some of them, it will be the only gift they get.”

Murphy applauded the business leaders for launching the inaugural charity shopping spree. “I absolutely love this partnership,” she said of the efforts made by Meridian, TAG and Cadillac Fairview. “They’re all outstanding community leaders. Coming together and doing something in a collective way that is benefiting a number of organizations — including YSB — is just so beautiful. 

“It’s what I would call true holiday spirit.”

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