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Celebrities help rally Ottawa community around food security

Never underestimate the value of social media and your online voice

Wu Tang shirt and social media posts
Wu Tang shirt and social media posts

By Samantha Ingram

Some critics say Ottawa is a sleepy city that’s frequently overlooked by big musical and cultural acts.

The Ottawa Food Bank begs to differ.

When COVID-19 and its associated restrictions reached the nation’s capital, the Ottawa Food Bank was grateful that a few exciting individuals did not overlook our city and its vulnerable population.

The Wu-Tang Clan and 36 Chambers, as well as Ryan Reynolds and Blake Lively, all played a role in supporting the more than 39,000 people who turn to one of 112 emergency food programs within the Ottawa Food Bank’s network every single month.

In the early days of the pandemic, Shopify’s Harley Finkelstein put out a personal challenge to support the charity. This challenge was first discussed with Ottawa Food Bank management and Mayor Jim Watson. A plan was made to record and post a Zoom call as the official challenge announcement. 

In the announcement, Finkelstein pledged to donate up to $10,000 of his own money to the Ottawa Food Bank in exchange for retweets of his message. This simple yet effective initiative quickly snowballed into something no one anticipated.

Soon Adam Miron, co-founder of HEXO, also generously pledged to donate $10,000, while also challenging the Wu-Tang Clan. And they responded! 

Enter the Wu-Tang

Having the Wu-Tang Clan mention Canada and the Ottawa Food Bank caught the attention of local residents and those living far beyond the city’s borders. The awareness campaign quickly took off and became so much more. What started as a $10,000 challenge ended up raising more than $310,000 in a matter of days.

Ottawa Food Bank social media staff responded to the Wu-Tang Clan with thanks and continued to respond to the community’s shock and awe by using fun hashtags such as #WuTangForever and #WuTangIsForTheChildren – both of which are album references. This fun back and forth made others see giving to charity as “cool.”

The ongoing excitement was noticed by 36 Chambers co-founders Mustafa Shaikh and Bobby Diggs (also known as RZA of the Wu-Tang Clan). They acted fast to maintain momentum and put together a campaign to support the Ottawa community even more.

Through music and actions, 36 Chambers always strives for a better tomorrow. Armed with that outlook, the A Better Tomorrow Collection was born. The portion of the collection supporting the Ottawa Food Bank was the OttaWu T-shirt, which successfully raised $100,000.

The actions of Finkelstein, Miron, the Wu-Tang Clan and 36 Chambers not only raised significant funds for the Ottawa Food Bank, but also generated a considerable amount of awareness for the cause. 

An email from ‘Ryan R’

Days later, the staffer monitoring the Ottawa Food Bank’s social media noticed @VancityReynolds (Ryan Reynolds’ account) started to “like” several of the charity’s tweets. Being cheeky, that employee took a screen capture of the “like” and shared it with the local organization’s followers.

Almost immediately, the staffer received an email from “Ryan R” stating he just donated and to let him know if there’s anything further he could do. His kind message was forwarded to the Ottawa Food Bank’s then-CEO, Michael Maidment, who reached out to thank him.

Reynolds responded offering information on why donating to the Ottawa Food Bank was important to him and his partner, Blake Lively, and with his permission that portion of their story was posted.

Sharing a simple quote from Ryan Reynolds generated an incredible amount of awareness and hype for the Ottawa Food Bank, and offers of support and excitement from the community once again started to follow.

The moral of the story here is not to gloat about attention received, but rather to share that you should never underestimate the value of social media and your online voice. If someone says to reach out, make sure you reach out.

Food insecurity and poverty are serious subjects, but at times it is acceptable to have fun with your online persona to raise awareness, make yourself approachable and support your community.

The entire Ottawa Food Bank network sincerely thanks everyone mentioned for their support. This high-profile attention helped to rally an entire community around the issue of food security, and that means the world to families and individuals who must turn to an emergency food program in their neighbourhood.

Samantha Ingram is the communications manager of the Ottawa Food Bank

Read the full 2020 Giving Guide: