Christmas Cheer Breakfast returns in new virtual format on Dec. 4

Annual fundraiser kicks off holiday season with celebrities, song, entertainment in support of 21 local charities
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Jim McConnery, chair of the Christmas Cheer Foundation and incoming managing partner of Welch LLP, and Chris Kincaid, volunteer organizing committee member and vice-president and chief operating officer of Mediaplus Advertising, launch the Christmas Cheer Breakfast, a one-hour virtual charity event happening Friday, Dec. 4th. Photo by Caroline Phillips
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When it comes to the Christmas Cheer Breakfast, the more, the merrier — especially this year.

Organizers are taking the festive fundraiser on the virtual road, making it easy for the community to participate from the comfort of their own home or workplace on Friday, Dec. 4.

The breakfast is considered by many Ottawa business folks to be the unofficial kick-off to the holiday season. This year, the one-hour event promises all the Christmas music, decor and cheer that the public has come to expect. Returning as presenting sponsor is aerospace and defence contractor Lockheed Martin Canada.

“You’re really going to feel the joy,” said Chris Kincaid. She's a member of the volunteer organizing committee and vice-president and chief operating officer of Ottawa-based advertising company Mediaplus, which is also a returning sponsor of the breakfast.

All proceeds from the Christmas Cheer Breakfast will help 21 local charities, many of which provide food for the hungry. 

"I like to think of this as your one-stop shop for helping during the holiday season."

“The holidays have always been a challenging time for many families in our community – this year, even more so because of the pandemic,” Kincaid told the OBJ. "I like to think of this as your one-stop shop for helping during the holiday season."

Last year, the breakfast raised just over $100,000 for such charities as the Ottawa Food Bank, the Shepherds of Good Hope and the Ottawa Mission, along with many smaller, more grassroots organizations.

"The charitable groups really span the region," said Kincaid. "They go from Kanata to Orléans to Barrhaven, and everywhere in between."

Joining Kincaid on the organizing committee are Sharon Martin, retired senior director from The Ottawa Hospital Foundation, and Elia Villamayor, executive assistant at The Westin hotel.

Loyal supporters of the Christmas Cheer Breakfast may remember how organizers ran into trouble last year finding a venue to hold their event, after having been hosted by The Westin hotel for so many years. Ontario cabinet minister and Nepean MPP Lisa MacLeod stepped in to save the day by securing the Shaw Centre. Not only did she attend the breakfast but she also brought along Ontario Premier Doug Ford to help dish out eggs and sausages.

What a difference a year makes.

“Last year we had no place to meet and this year we cannot meet in any place,” said Kincaid. Organized indoor events allow for a maximum of 50 people, according to COVID-19 restrictions. 

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Lisa MacLeod, Ontario Minister of Heritage, Sport, Tourism and Culture Industries, on stage with Premier Doug Ford and Ottawa Mayor Jim Watson at the 2019 Christmas Cheer Breakfast held at the Shaw Centre. Photo by Caroline Phillips

Mercedes-Benz Ottawa Downtown is back as a sponsor this year. So is Capital Wealth Partners/Mandeville Private Client. Organizers will be actively promoting the Christmas Cheer Breakfast over the next month, encouraging local businesses to purchase virtual corporate tables. The public can also buy individual tickets and/or make online donations.

The Christmas Cheer Breakfast is using the same platform used during The Ottawa Hospital Foundation's President's Breakfast to allow table hosts and their guests to interact with each other, virtually. It'll help to keep the mood as social as possible, said Kincaid.

“What the pandemic has done is change, for so many of us, how we do things. I’ve been really impressed with how Ottawa has been so resilient and has figured out how to get things done, but in a different way," said Kincaid. "The Christmas Cheer Breakfast is no exception.”

Graham Richardson and Patricia Boal from CTV News Ottawa are returning to host the event. Special guests include MacLeod and Mayor Jim Watson, with musical performances from Canadian singer-songwriter Serena Ryder, The Tenors, Ottawa-born Stephanie La Rochelle and spoken-word poet and public speaker Wali Shah, an alumni of RBC’s Top 25 Canadian Immigrants.

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BellMedia executive producer Joanne Woo is flanked by CTV News at Six co-anchors Graham Richardson and Patricia Boal, all in their Christmas suits, at the 2019 Christmas Cheer Breakfast, held at the Shaw Centre. Photo by Caroline Phillips

If you adopt the coffee-mug-half-full approach, it is way more convenient to participate in the virtual breakfast than it is the real deal, which involves getting up extra early, (possibly) putting on your Christmas-print suit, driving downtown, parking the car and trying to find one's table.

“What remains the same is that we’re still going to kick off the holiday season together and, at the same time, support the 21 charities that help those in need in our community,” said Kincaid.

Jim McConnery, incoming managing partner of Welch LLP, is chair of the Christmas Cheer Foundation board. Its roots go back nearly 70 years, to 1951, when the efforts began through an annual on-air radio campaign. The Foundation has been around since 2007.

McConnery said they did have concerns over the summer as to whether they’d be able to pull off their breakfast this year. They gained the confidence they needed after watching other nonprofit groups, such as the aforementioned hospital foundation, successfully launch their charity breakfasts earlier in the fall.

“A virtual event has challenges but it also has opportunities,” said McConnery of the potential to expand audiences beyond only those people who'd normally attend in person.

The odds are definitely against the heads-or-tail fundraising contest going ahead this year. The popular tradition requires participants to be together in the same room as they guess the outcome of a series of coin tosses, until only one contestant remains to claim the prize. McConnery has led the contest for the last several years, accompanied on stage by his lovely daughters, Regan and Stella. 

The 21 beneficiary charities are: Caring and Sharing Exchange, Debra Dynes Family House, Youth Services Bureau Foundation, Caldwell Family Centre, Operation Come Home, Heron Emergency Food Centre, AIDS Committee of Ottawa, Christie Lake Kids, St. Luke’s Lunch Club, Kanata Food Cupboard, YMCA-YWCA, FAMSAC Food Cupboard, Barrhaven Food Cupboard, St. Joe’s Supper Table, The Ottawa Mission, Centretown Emergency Food Centre, Centre 507, Ottawa Innercity Ministries, Ottawa Food Bank, Shepherds of Good Hope Foundation and Youville Centre.

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The Christmas Cheer Breakfast, held last year at the Shaw Centre, raises money for 21 local charities, many of which provide food for the hungry. Photo by Caroline Phillips

— caroline@obj.ca