The smell of bacon wafting through the air was probably the best savoury reminder of what Saturday’s Spark Soirée was all about: making sure no child in Ottawa starts their school day hungry.
Some 300 guests attended Ottawa Network for Education (ONFE)’s second annual gala, held at the Infinity Convention Centre in support of the non-profit organization’s popular School Breakfast Program.
It was breakfast for dinner, with a gourmet twist. Guests began with French toast kebabs, pancake skewers, mini BLT sliders, and bacon-wrapped pork belly, served with cocktails and mimosas. For dinner, it was smoked salmon salad with capers, red onion, cream cheese shmear and bagel chips, followed by a main course of steak and eggs, with potato, poached egg, petite filet, caramelized onion, aged cheddar and tarragon mornay sauce. Guests were served waffles for dessert with rum and lime-sautéed bananas, whipped cream, caramel, fresh berries and ice cream.
The gala — which grossed $83,229 — was chaired by Mychelle Mollot, chief marketing officer for Kanata-based tech firm Solace.
Making sure kids have proper access to nutritious food is so important, she said, and yet there are students arriving to school every day with empty stomachs.
“It’s putting them at such a disadvantage,” she told OBJ.social. “They’re already starting the day behind everyone else. It seems like a small thing but I don’t think it is, not when you can’t focus and you can’t concentrate, and when you’re supposed to do well at school on top of that.”
ONFE’s School Breakfast Program provides more than 2.5 million nutritious meals a year. That breaks down to 13,500 meals a day, in 191 schools in Ottawa. Yet, ONFE has to raise more than $550,000, annually, through community fundraising efforts in order for the program to run.
“I don’t think people understand that there’s poverty in Ottawa,” said Mollot. “I think we’re a little isolated, particularly in the high-tech little bubble that we’re in. There’s actually a lot of poverty in this city and it’s getting worse because rent is getting more expensive and real estate is getting more expensive.
“It’s harder and harder for families to provide the basics, like sending kids to school with breakfast.”
Joining Mollot on the organizing committee was ONFE board vice-chair Denise Andre, who's also the director of education for the Ottawa Catholic School Board.
Supporters included WelchGroup Consulting president Candace Enman, who ended up winning the grand raffle prize of a trip for two to any WestJet destination. There was also an online auction, which featured a one-week trip to a luxury villa in Exuma, Bahamas, donated by Peter Nicholson of The Foundation (WCPD).
On hand that night were Carolyn Hunter, director of the School Breakfast Program, and Kathryn McKinlay, president and CEO of Ottawa Network for Education. The non-profit organization develops and delivers programs to schools across all four Ottawa school boards. “Our goal is to ensure that every child in Ottawa finishes school prepared to take on the world,” McKinlay told the room.
Among those sighted from ONFE’s board of directors were: Cheryl Jensen, president of Algonquin College, Gowling WLG law partner Carole Chouinard, Business Sherpa Group president and CEO Margo Crawford, and Michel Belliveau, regional vice president of RBC.
Before dinner, guests participated in an engaging game that focused on a small mystery box planted on each table. It got them searching their chairs for their first clue. The first-place winner, National Bank branch manager Brian Ballinger and his table, won a corporate team building exercise donated by Escape Manor and valued at $1,000.
Live entertainment included a four-piece jazz band from Nepean High School during the cocktail hour. Later, the Ottawa band SWAY got guests shaking on the dance floor.
ONFE collaborates with community partners and educators to bring innovative and essential programs into K-12 schools. It aims to remove barriers to learning and to provide solutions to important issues, such as student hunger, early literacy, numeracy deficits, and substance abuse. ONFE also provides students the opportunity to develop financial literacy, entrepreneurial thinking and work readiness skills.
The group has more than 3,200 volunteers and is the only organization in Ottawa that works directly with, and is endorsed by, all four school boards to deliver programs in local schools.