Everyone loves a good comeback story, right? The Blue Door Gala has so many to offer that it has easily become one of the most inspiring and feel-good fundraisers in Ottawa.
The benefit dinner raises funds for The Ottawa Mission, which provides food, shelter and vital services to our city’s homeless and hungry. The evening also showcases the charitable organization’s successful food services training program, which gives unemployed men and women the skills to find jobs in commercial kitchens.
The third annual Blue Door Gala returns to the Infinity Convention Centre this Thursday, November 14th.
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The $175-a-ticket fundraiser, presented by Caivan Communities, is once again being chaired by a tireless trio of business leaders: Thyme & Again Creative Catering owner Sheila Whyte and her business partner, chef Michael Moffatt, along with high-profile criminal defence and civil litigation lawyer Lawrence Greenspon from Greenspon Hill Granger.
They gathered Monday night, along with corporate sponsors and community supporters, at the Thyme & Again Kitchen + Food Shop on Carling Avenue to kick off this year’s Blue Door Gala, which is looking to be another heart and soul-filled fun night.
“It’s the human story that we will celebrate,” Sean Wong, executive director of The Ottawa Mission Foundation, said in his remarks. “It’s a story of people who have had different lives than you and I have had, perhaps, and they’ve journeyed back. We’re going to celebrate that.”
The gala is named after the conspicuous set of blue-coloured front doors that individuals pass through on their way to finding shelter and a hot meal at The Ottawa Mission, located at 35 Waller St.
Organizers propped up a traditional blue door for the launch. With its missing glass panel, it was perfect for photo-ops.
It’s been nearly 15 years since The Mission launched its food services training program. The five-month program — which has a 95-percent success rate — gives students hands-on experience in the kitchen, plus theory, before finding them non-paid, 40-hour placements. Thyme & Again has hired many graduates over the years.
“I’m the luckiest man in the world,” chef Ric Watson, director of food services at The Ottawa Mission, told the room. “I get to watch people’s lives change.”
Watson does more than watch; he’s been a tremendous mentor and booster to so many of his students over the years. Recent graduate Mohamed Abdi-Aziz, 24, expressed his sincere gratitude to Watson for “believing in me and giving me the opportunity to go for my dreams and do better in life.
“I couldn’t be happier,” said Abdi-Aziz, who’s now in the culinary management program at Algonquin College. “I never thought I’d be in college ever in my life. I’m so proud of myself.”
Moffatt, who’s been working in food services for more than 20 years, had this observation to share about the industry: it’s full of individuals who are looking for a new start and a second chance.
“It’s an absolute honour to be part of this,” he added before sharing with guests the menu for this year’s gala (while Greenspon used his charisma to get the whole room oohing and aahing).
Guests will dine on house-smoked salmon with arugula, capers and edible flowers on crostini; caramelized butternut squash bisque with pepita and wild rice granola and sage oil; spinach and asiago-stuffed chicken with rosemary-scented veloute, roasted red potatoes, heirloom carrots, bell peppers and patty pan squash; and a deconstructed fall cheesecake with vanilla cheesecake balls with cinnamon-poached apples, graham cracker crumble and frozen blueberries and mint.
Worth noting: the food services training students will be at the gala helping to prepare and serve the dinner as part of their final exam. One of the highlights last year was watching them individually walk across the stage to receive their diplomas on stage from Watson.
Monday’s reception at Thyme & Again was catered by The Ottawa Mission, involving present and past students.
Attendees of the event launch included Warren Creates, head of the immigration law group at Perley-Robertson, Hill & McDougall. He attended last year as a guest of David Cork, senior wealth advisor with ScotiaMcLeod. He enjoyed the evening so much that he and his wife are returning this year, and hosting a dinner table of their own.
“I listened to the testimonials last year and it was so beautiful to hear the graduates talk about how the program transformed their lives, and how people believed in them,” Creates told OBJ.social.
There were new faces in the crowd, too, including Peter Hagen from Soloway Wright LLP and Melissa Shabinsky, who’s on the foundation board for The Shepherds of Good Hope — another major charity that helps the homeless in Ottawa.
Michael Scrivens, a partner at the family-owned Scrivens Insurance and Investment Solutions, is back as a corporate sponsor. “We’ve been connected with The Mission for a long time,” said Scrivens, who serves meals to the homeless with his wife, Heather Bradley, and their grown boys, at least once or twice a year.
Richard MacNeill, president of OTUS Group, also volunteers at The Mission during the big feast holidays. He brings out his employees to build awareness and team spirit. This Thanksgiving, Scotiabank vice-president Frank Bilodeau and his wife, Steffanie, market lead at Scotiatrust Eastern Ontario, will be helping to serve turkey dinners at The Mission with their adult children.
The Ottawa Mission, which serves more than 1,300 meals a day and provides beds to an average of 186 homeless people each night, also gives out clothing and provides employment and educational support, housing assistance, mental health services, addiction and trauma services, spiritual care and health services for primary, dental and palliative care.