Toronto Star

Crowdfundi­ng saves kitchen run by Syrian refugees

Initiative that provides work for newcomer women at risk of closing before donations started rolling in


Support and donations are pouring in to help a fledgling social enterprise for Syrian refugee women that was at risk of shuttering because of a lack of funding.

The Newcomer Kitchen was in jeopardy of closing in January after it failed to secure funding from government­s and charitable foundation­s to take the operation to the next level and make it sustainabl­e.

Staffed by Syrian refugee women and begun as a social program, the kitchen, housed weekly at the Depanneur restaurant on College St., offers catering and ready-to-go meals to the public with revenue split among the participan­ts after deductions for ingredient­s and supplies.

“It is so nice to see the flood of goodwill, generosity and support.” KELLI KIELEY PROGRAM VOLUNTEER

“Our (crowdfundi­ng) campaign was on fire. It was lit up,” said Kelli Kieley, a program volunteer who is also making a documentar­y film, Shway Shway (Little by Little), about the women of the Newcomer Kitchen.

“It is so nice to see the flood of goodwill, generosity and support. It reaffirms my belief in the kitchen and its vision.”

Kieley started the crowdfundi­ng for the documentar­y and the kitchen in October but had only raised $13,000 up until December 17. The fundraisin­g more than doubled to almost $30,000 after a Star story shed light on its imminent closing. Thirty-five per cent of the fund will go to the kitchen’s operations and the rest to the documentar­y’s post-production costs.

Even after the crowdfundi­ng campaign was wrapped up on Monday, donations have continued to come in through the Newcomer Kitchen’s own website, which has received about $7,000 in donations.

Registered as a non-profit in October 2016, the group has relied on volunteers to administer the program, which started off as a social gathering for government-sponsored Syrian refugee women staying in hotels while waiting for permanent housing.

Although the refugee women all ultimately moved out of the hotels, they continued to meet at the Depanneur every Thursday and decided to turn it into a social enterprise by using their home-cooking skills to support their families. About $75,000 in revenue has been paid to the women.

However, the operations have tak- en a toll on the volunteers who give their time to run the business from raising funds to purchasing supplies, co-ordinating deliveries, administer­ing the website to advertise the meals and catering services. They plan to hire administra­tors to take up the work.

Len Senater, the kitchen’s cofounder, said the group is very pleased with the response.

“We’ve seen a huge surge in the online engagement on our Facebook and Twitter accounts,” he said. “What we raised in eight hours was more than what we had over eight weeks.”

Senater said the total amount of money raised will help “stretch” the program for a few more months but they need to regroup over the holiday with a game plan to contemplat­e its long-term future.

Some corporate businesses have also reached out to offer logistical support to guide the social enterprise. “We are definitely more hopeful now,” Senater noted.

Chevrolet Canada has mad a “very generous” cash donation while Deloitte has offered to help the kitchen with its business expertise, according to Cara Benjamin-Pace, another co-founder.

Paramount Fine Foods is among many groups that have stepped up to help resurrect the kitchen.

Mohamad Fakih, the restaurant chain’s president and CEO, was on a business trip in England when he read the Star story. “Paramount wants to make the business sustainabl­e and profitable through our resources, staff experience, customer base, food and beverage experience, numbers and profitabil­ity,” Fakih, who came to Canada from Lebanon in 1999 and now runs a business enterprise that has 35 locations in Canada and employs more than 1,500 people, told the Star.

“New Canadians including myself come here to find a better life. When I arrived here, I received a lot of help from others and I hope to continue to provide help and opportunit­ies for newcomers . . . to give back to the community.”

 ?? CARLOS OSORIO/TORONTO STAR FILE PHOTO ?? The Newcomer Kitchen offers catering and ready-to-go meals for the public made by Syrian refugee women.
CARLOS OSORIO/TORONTO STAR FILE PHOTO The Newcomer Kitchen offers catering and ready-to-go meals for the public made by Syrian refugee women.

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