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

- NI­CHOLAS KE­UNG IM­MI­GRA­TION RE­PORTER

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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