Grinch Dinner raises $50K to help Shepherds of Good Hope serve hot meals this winter

Annual fundraiser sees Ottawa chefs donate time, skill and food to create gourmet dinner paired with wines

John Peters, Melissa Shabinsky, Joe Thottungal
From left, Grinch Dinner co-hosts John Peters and Melissa Shabinsky with Joe Thottungal, executive chef and owner of Coconut Lagoon, at the Grinch Dinner held at his restaurant on Wednesday, Dec. 7, 2022, in support of Shepherds of Good Hope. Photo by Caroline Phillips
Editor's Note

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In Ottawa, the Grinch Dinner has become as much a beloved holiday classic as the fictional green grump that first inspired it so many years ago.

The fundraiser does an exceptional job of bringing people together for an intimate evening filled with the best food, drinks and conversation while also supporting Shepherds of Good Hope. 

This year’s dinner netted $50,000. That’s money that will help to serve more than 18,000 hot meals to the men and women who will surely be relying on Shepherds’ downtown soup kitchen in the cold months ahead.

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There are a few factors that help to make the dinner so successful, beginning with the participation of the Ottawa chefs who donate their food, time and expertise to create the multi-course meal that’s served with wine pairings. 

This year’s 42-person Grinch Dinner was held Wednesday at Coconut Lagoon restaurant on St. Laurent Boulevard. Its owner and executive chef, Joe Thottungal, closed his business down for the night in order to hold the special event. “He’s the best; there’s no one like Joe,” said Deirdre Freiheit, president and CEO of Shepherds of Good Hope and of its foundation. 

Then, there’s the volunteer leadership behind the Grinch Dinner. It’s co-hosted by lawyer John Peters, a partner in the Ottawa office of Gowling WLG, with long-time community builder Melissa Shabinsky

“They do this every year out of the goodness of their hearts,” said Freiheit. “It’s amazing.”

From left, Chefs David Godsoe, Yassine Zaknoun, Justin Champagne Lagarde, Sweety Alex David, Patrick Garland (centre), Ben Baird, Naveen M C, Joe Thottungal and Yannick LaSalle in the kitchen of Coconut Lagoon for the Grinch Dinner. Photo by Caroline Phillips

Peters and Shabinsky cover any event expenses out of their own pocket. They also invite the philanthropic folks who pay the steep price of $1,500 per couple (with a substantial tax receipt).

And while it could be challenging to pull off elegance when the theme is based on an ultimately big-hearted hermit, the organizers created an atmosphere that was warm, inviting and gorgeous. 

The annual gathering has come a long way since the days of Peters inviting a few pals over to his downtown apartment to hang out over beers, while the 1966 animated TV special, How the Grinch Stole Christmas, played in the background.  That was in 1991, when he was an articling student.  

Peters’ little get-togethers evolved into a larger Grinch party once the young lawyer bought his own home. It was his friend and former dinner co-host, Paul Turner, who suggested he turn the annual event into a fundraiser. “He said, ‘You should use your power for good instead of evil, and raise money’,” Peters recalled good-humouredly.

He and Turner started holding the event at downtown venues, raising a modest amount each time. About 14 years ago, they took the fundraiser up a few levels by making it a dinner “that charges an outrageous amount of money” but with all of it going to Shepherds. Peters’ leadership role with the non-profit organization stretches back decades. He’s now the board’s honorary officer emeritus and still sits on the foundation board.

To date, the Grinch Dinner has raised more than half a million dollars for Shepherds of Good Hope.

“I’m just very, very, very happy and pleased and thankful,” said Peters who believes the dinner is a reflection of how generous the Ottawa community is. “It blows me away every time.”

Some 42 attendees dined together at the Grinch Dinner held in support of Shepherds of Good Hope at Coconut Lagoon, raising a total of $50,000. Photo by Caroline Phillips
Some 42 attendees dined together at the Grinch Dinner held in support of Shepherds of Good Hope at Coconut Lagoon on Wednesday, Dec. 7, 2022, raising $50,000. Photo by Caroline Phillips

The attendees were a who’s who of Whoville, from developer John Bassi and his wife, Maria, to home builder Chris Taggart and his wife, magazine publisher Mary Taggart, to Paramount Properties principal Stuart Ages and his wife, Leila, as well as Shabinsky’s husband, Ian Shabinsky, principal at Glenview Management. Interestingly, Liza Mrak from Mark Motors Group and her husband, Gary Zed, became supporters of Shepherds after attending its last Grinch Dinner, in the pre-pandemic days of 2019. They went on to co-chair the organization’s signature Taste for Hope fundraiser last spring. Its raised a record-breaking $270,000. 

Also in attendance were Shepherds of Good Hope (SGH) board chair Dave Donaldson, retired dean of the school of business at Algonquin College, and SGH Foundation board chair Mark Roundell, who’s retired as a senior portfolio manager with RBC Dominion Securities.

What a nice change for culinary leader Robert Bourassa to attend this year as a guest after helping out for many years behind the scenes. Robin Duetta, who’s so plugged into Ottawa’s culinary community, now does all the coordination of chefs. They included Thottungal, who also owns Thali restaurant on O’Connor Street, Yannick LaSalle, who’s now the executive chef for the Supreme Court of Canada, Ben Baird (Pelican Seafood Market & Grill in the Blue Heron Mall), Patrick Garland (Absinthe on Wellington Street West), David Godsoe (Restaurant e18hteen on York Street), and Justin Champagne-Lagarde (Perch on Preston Street).

Guests enjoyed a soup course followed by an appetizer, three-course dinner and dessert.

The Shepherds of Good Hope has been working hard to get the message out that it’s so much more than a soup kitchen and shelter. It’s continuing to make great strides toward creating additional supportive housing in Ottawa. It currently puts permanent roofs over the heads of 243 people who might otherwise be sleeping rough.

Shepherds will soon be opening two more supportive housing residences, bringing its total number of facilities up to seven. It’s on its way to having more men and women living in its housing programs than using its shelter services.

“That’s the first time in the history of our organization that we’ve been able to do that and, certainly, I think in the history of the city, where an organization that started out providing shelter has branched into housing to this extent,” Freiheit told OBJ.social.

The organization is slated to open a new 57-unit residence on Merivale Road by spring. It’s also working on another new development at 216 Murray St. in Lowertown, near the ByWard Market area.

The new Murray Street facility will provide another 48 units of housing. As well, the building will run a fully staffed and supervised day program for clients. Shepherds plans to relocate its soup kitchen there.

“We know that the way we can end chronic homelessness is to give people a home of their own with the supports that they need,” said Freiheit.

Chris Taggart, Mary Taggart, Gary Zed and Liza Mrak
From left, Chris Taggart, president of Tamarack Developments and Tartan Homes, with Ottawa At Home magazine publisher and editor Mary Taggart, Gary Zed, CEO and founder of Canada’s Forest Trust and Liza Mrak, executive vice president of Mark Motors Group, at the Grinch Dinner, held at Coconut Lagoon. Photo by Caroline Phillips
From left, Ian Shabinsky and Grinch Dinner co-host Melissa Shabinsky with attendees Leila Ages and Stuart Ages at the fundraiser for Shepherds of Good Hope, held Wednesday, Dec. 7, 2022, at Coconut Lagoon on St. Laurent Boulevard. Photo by Caroline Phillips
From left, Pawan Dilawri, president of Dilawri Auto Group, with Maria Bassi, Meera Dilawri and John Bassi of JBPA Developments, at the Grinch Dinner, held at Coconut Lagoon on Wednesday, Dec. 7, 2022. Photo by Caroline Phillips
From left, Liz Nowak and Robert Bourassa with Cindy Morris and Art Dowd at the Grinch Dinner held at Coconut Lagoon in support of Shepherds of Good Hope. Photo by Caroline Phillips
Leigh Harris, Jeff Hill
Leigh Harris, partner at KPMG, with her husband, Jeff Hill, branch manager of BMO Nesbitt Burns, at the Grinch Dinner for Shepherds of Good Hope, held at Coconut Lagoon restaurant on Wednesday, Dec. 7, 2022. Photo by Caroline Phillips
David Gourlay, vice president of Shepherds of Good Hope Foundation, with Sharon Adunmo, coordinator of donor stewardship and community events, and Deirdre Freiheit, president and CEO of the Shepherds of Good Hope and its foundation, at the Grinch Dinner held at Coconut Lagoon on Wednesday, Dec. 7, 2022. Photo by Caroline Phillips
From left, Keith Henry and Krista Kealey, vice president of communications and public affairs for the Ottawa International Airport Authority, with Todd Tackaberry and Jennifer Tackaberry, VP of sales and marketing for Ottawa at Home Media, at the Grinch Dinner held at Coconut Lagoon in support of Shepherds of Good Hope. Photo by Caroline Phillips
From left, journalist Jenn Campbell with Vivianna Sigurdson, owner of Vivianna Day Spa, at the Grinch Dinner held at Coconut Lagoon in support of Shepherds of Good Hope. Photo by Caroline Phillips
From left, Dave Donaldson, board chair of Shepherds of Good Hope (SGH), with its president and CEO, Deirdre Freiheit, and Mark Roundell, board chair of SGH Foundation, with his wife, Debbie, at the Grinch Dinner held at Coconut Lagoon restaurant on Wednesday, Dec. 7, 2022. Photo by Caroline Phillips
From left, Dr. Michael Rapp and Susan Margles, chief people and safety officer at Canada Post, with Jamie Boyce, senior vice president with CBRE, and his wife, Jennifer, at the Grinch Dinner for Shepherds of Good Hope, held at Coconut Lagoon. Photo by Caroline Phillips
From left, David Gourlay and Robin Duetta flank the Grinch, or at least an inflatable version of the Grinch, at the Grinch Dinner held at Coconut Lagoon in support of Shepherds of Good Hope. Photo by Caroline Phillips

caroline@obj.ca

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