What began as a bitterly cold walk to a charity breakfast in predawn darkness soon turned into the stunning sight of a 40-foot Christmas tree, with twinkling lights, on prominent display outside Lansdowne’s Aberdeen Pavilion. Some 650 business and community leaders filed inside the building Friday for the annual Christmas Cheer Breakfast.
The crowd raised — under one big heritage roof — funds that will result in fewer disadvantaged families and individuals having to go hungry this Christmas. Among the beneficiaries were the Ottawa Food Bank, Caring and Sharing, YMCA-YWCA, Youville Centre, Debra Dynes Family House and the Youth Services Bureau.
The breakfast is organized by the Christmas Cheer Foundation chaired by Jim McConnery, a partner at Welch LLP.
"It's easy to get caught up in the commercialism of Christmas, and to take the spirit of the holiday for granted," McConnery told OBJ.social. “That’s why it’s great to see everyone come together, at a venue like this one, and share in the goodwill that goes along with Christmas."
New to the volunteer board is Janice Barresi, executive director of the charitable foundation launched last year by the Ottawa Sports and Entertainment Group. OSEG owns and operates the Ottawa Redblacks, Ottawa Fury and Ottawa 67's sports teams, as well as manages the stadium/arena complex.
It was the first time the event took place at Lansdowne Park, after having been held for so many years at The Westin hotel. In the pavilion, one could watch the place become bathed in soft morning light as the sun rose and shone through the windows.
Police Chief Charles Bordeleau, Mayor Jim Watson, OSEG chief executive Mark Goudie and several CTV News reporters and personalities were among the celebrity servers to dish out eggs, sausages, and hash browns. Also joining them were Ottawa Redblacks coach Rick Campbell and players Brad Sinopoli, Alex Mateas and Lewis Ward. A couple of them donned Christmas sweaters beneath their orange serving aprons.
TD Place/Levy Restaurants executive chef Jason Moore and his sous chef, Gouhar Yaqoob, had been up since 2 a.m. preparing the fresh pastries and breakfast food. It’s hard to say who got less shut-eye — them or the hundreds who slept outside in their tents on the adjacent TD Place field for the YSB SleepOUT for Youth.
For many, the Christmas Cheer Breakfast is the unofficial kickoff to Christmas with its holiday decorations and live Christmas music. Members of the Ottawa Police Services continued their tradition of peddling raffle tickets to help raise more money.
McConnery, who was joined on stage by his adorable two daughters, led everyone in the annual fundraising game of heads or tails, where participants predict the coin toss outcome by placing their hands on their heads or backside. If they’re wrong, they’re disqualified and are asked to sit down. Once most of the room has been eliminated, the remaining contestants go up on stage to continue until only one winner remains. This year, it was Lesley Mackay from Ottawa Tourism. She scored tickets to an Ottawa Senators game, a gift certificate to The Shore Club and a stay at the Fairmont Château Laurier.