A jolly old fellow made a surprise appearance Friday morning at the annual Christmas Cheer Breakfast, which raised more than $106,000 for local charities that are helping to make the holidays a little brighter for families and individuals in need.
No, we’re not talking about Santa — although, he did show up, too — but Ontario Premier Doug Ford, who shared that he has a special spot in his heart for Ottawa.
He was seen donning an apron and gripping a pair of tongs alongside volunteer servers. They were dishing out a buffet-style breakfast to early-morning risers at the fundraiser, which was held for its first time at the Shaw Centre.
The Christmas Cheer Breakfast, which each year helps feed hungry families over the holidays, announced in October it was coming up empty in its search for a suitable venue to hold this year’s event. With nowhere to turn, organizers officially announced they would have to cancel the long-running breakfast.
That’s when Nepean MPP and Ontario cabinet minister Lisa MacLeod stepped in to save the day.
MacLeod, who learned about the cancellation while watching the CTV nightly news, made some phone calls and quickly secured a new venue, the Shaw Centre, along with some sponsorship. The downtown convention centre is owned by the provincial government.
“We wouldn’t be here today if it wasn’t for Lisa,” Mayor Jim Watson said at the podium. “She’s a pragmatic politician that actually, instead of just thinking and talking about something, does something.”
It was a very friendly exchange, with Watson giving MacLeod a double-cheek kiss as he presented her with a framed letter proclaiming it to be Christmas Cheer Breakfast Day in Ottawa. Meanwhile, Ford told everyone how Watson is "one of the best mayors in Ontario." Also present were MacLeod's Ottawa colleagues: Conservative MPPs Goldie Ghamari, Jeremy Roberts and Merrilee Fullerton, minister of long-term care.
MacLeod is an East Coast girl at heart. “I grew up in the Maritimes, and we have a saying that ‘Many hands make light work’, and we were able to do that,” said MacLeod, who didn't take all the credit; she shared it with the likes of CTV News Ottawa anchor Graham Richardson, Shaw Centre CEO Nina Kressler and her team, and her own team within her ministry of heritage, sport, tourism and culture industries.
Richardson emceed the event with his co-anchor Patricia Boal, both decked out in attention-grabbing Christmas attire.
The sold-out event drew a crowd of 750 and raised $106,850 in support of 21 local charities, including The Ottawa Food Bank and Caring and Sharing Exchange. Representatives were called on stage to reveal, by holding up signs, the wide range of beneficiaries.
Many of the attendees that morning were from the business community. Among the sponsors were: Janice Menezes, CFO of presenting sponsor Lockheed Martin, and its head of communications, Cindy Tessier; Arnie Mierins from Mercedes-Benz Ottawa, Don Masters and Chris Kincaid from Mediaplus Advertising, and Duane Francis from Capital Wealth Architects/Mandeville Private Client, among others.
The festive breakfast featured live entertainment from a group of a cappella singers from Capital City Chorus and Séan McCann, formerly of the Great Big Sea band (he's doing a benefit concert for the Queensway Carleton Hospital this Saturday night at Algonquin College).
Jim McConnery, a partner at Welch LLP, was back as the chair of the Christmas Cheer Foundation board. He was once again joined on stage by his two daughters, whom he jokingly tried to pass off as colleagues from the firm’s accounting and consulting departments.
The McConnery clan led the crowd through the fundraising game of heads or tails, which is a Christmas Cheer tradition. This year’s winner of the $1,100 prize package was Tom Bigelow from Kelly Funeral Home. He scored a one-night stay at The Westin Ottawa with breakfast, along with a gift certificate to the hotel’s Shore Club restaurant, and tickets to an Ottawa Senators game.