What’s red and white and delicious all over? How about the wine and foodie fundraiser for Harmony House, the only second-stage shelter in the region that provides safe, affordable and transitional housing for women and their children who have escaped abusive relationships.
It held its 14th Annual Red and White fundraiser on Thursday night at the Horticulture Building at Lansdowne, bringing together a sold-out crowd of 250 people. Word's getting out that it's a can’t-miss dining experience; attendance was double that of last year.
“We’re really growing at lightening speeds and it’s all thanks to amazing community support, to our donors, and to our food, wine and spirit vendors,” Sandra Pedersen, the shelter's fundraising and brand development manager, told OBJ.social.
Two great chefs headlined the evening: David Godsoe from the e18hteen group of restaurants in the ByWard Market area and his good friend Jordan Holley, co-owner and chef of Riviera fine-dining restaurant on Sparks Street (it was ranked as one of Canada's 100 Best Restaurants last year).
The pair took to the stage to share details of the evening's four-course dinner. They were joined by the evening’s emcee, Rick Chase, director of practice development with Freedom 55 Financial.
The chefs, who seemed passionate and knowledgable about food, also performed a live cooking demonstration on stage. It was the fourth year of participating for Godsoe, who runs the culinary show at e18hteen, Social, The Clarendon Tavern and Jackson restaurants.
Guests started with a citrus salad, featuring blood and cara cara navel oranges. The crowd was next served tuna crudo, with calamansi, avocado, chili and puffed amaranth, followed by a braised beef dish, with glazed cipollini, celery root puree and gremolata. Dessert was sticky toffee pudding with banana sorbet.
The pair also offered to cook dinner for the highest bidder and nine of their friends, as one of the live auction items.
Organizers hoped to net about $30,000 from the evening. The funds will help Harmony House catch up to the 21st century. It wants to: update its old security camera system, make Wi-Fi available throughout the shelter, and purchase basic laptop computers to help women and their children learn, connect and feel safe.
“We’re trying to enable and empower women,” said Pedersen. “Without today's technology, it’s almost impossible.”
Attendees included Paul Crampton, chief justice of Canada's Federal Court, retired senator Sharon Carstairs and Women's Business Network of Ottawa executive director Soula Burrell with a large cohort of businesswomen, including BYA finalist Karen Brownrigg. Dave Rossetti, business development manager for sponsor PCL Contractors was there, as were GOHBA president Roy Nandram and executive director Jason Burggraaf, and Janet Stewart, founder and CEO of We Love Learning.
Organizers had a secret fundraising weapon with their out-of-town guest Layne, founder and CEO of The Auctionista. “It’s my job to help you spend more than you ever imagined in your entire life, and to feel amazing about it,” she said, bringing her larger-than-life presence to the benefit, accompanied by her signature pink tuxedo jacket and silver shoes.
She got everyone in the room to fork over five bucks to participate in a quick fundraising game of “heads or tails.” Participants guessed the outcome of a coin toss by putting their hands on their heads or backside. The final contestant won a stay at a health and wellness retreat, Grail Springs, in Bancroft. Later in the evening, Layne challenged the audience to help raise $15,000 in just five minutes by donating sums of money ranging from $5 to $1,000. Dr. Gordon Schwartz, a periodontist with gold sponsor GumDocs, kicked in $2,500, in absentia.
The room heard how it was looking, at one point, that this week’s winter storm was going to prevent Layne from getting to Ottawa.
“I can’t tell you how thrilled I am to be here,” she told the audience. “I literally mean that because every single flight from Toronto last night was either delayed or cancelled, except mine.”
Layne had considered driving up, on the 401, but Pederson dissuades her from doing so, telling her, "I don’t want anything to happen to you. I need to keep you safe. We will let the universe provide".
“I’m telling you, Flight AC448, you provided,” she enthused. “Thank you!”
Ottawa city councillor Catherine McKenney (Somerset Ward) attended, along with councillor Theresa Kavanagh (Bay Ward), the city’s first liaison for women and gender equity. Since last April, more than 600 women and children have been turned away from shelters, McKenney told the room “We are at a point where we are in an emergency,” she said of the homelessness situation.
Harmony House gives women and their children a place to go after their stay in an emergency or first-stage shelter. It also gives them access to a food bank and programs and services.
The room heard from a former client, as well as from Harmony House outreach worker Trysh Smith. She shared an astonishing story involving a mother at Harmony House and her three kids, who are originally from a fly-in community outside Iqaluit. Smith was helping to put together a food box for the family when one of the children, a three-year-old girl, wanted to know what an orange was; she'd never seen one before. Nor did she realize that bananas and apples came in colours other than brown.