April 22, 2020

Article at GuelphMercury.com

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'I could tell that it was going to be something special': Guelph neighbours show there is power in numbers


Donations help a local family and at-risk hospital workers in a time of need

There is power in numbers. Guelph resident Ines Mazzotta saw an example of that throughout a small community project intended to benefit both the staff at the Guelph General Hospital and a beloved local establishment.

Mazzotta watched a recent news segment on how a group of friends in New York City collected gift certificates from area restaurants to give to front-line health-care workers for meals in one of the worst hit spots of the COVID-19 pandemic.

She lives down the street from Sara Watson and Karim Ladhani, owners of York Rd Kitchen & Chocolate Bar. While restaurants everywhere have been devastated by the pandemic, Watson and Ladhani have faced some serious challenges prior to the recent closures.

So Mazzotta and a group of neighbours collected donations to lend a hand to both the family and those at-risk hospital workers in a time of need.

“I thought that the idea was brilliant, and why not do it here?” she says, noting how supportive the area has been with similar ventures.

“We had an overwhelming response.”

Neighbours discussed the idea and Mazzotta eventually sent a mass email to those around her Exhibition Park-area home, requesting donations that would initially go toward supplying York Rd Kitchen meals for staff at the hospital’s Ward 4E, where an outbreak had occurred.

But after contacting the Foundation of Guelph General Hospital, the suggestion was to provide gift certificates so staff could use them at their leisure rather than increase the chance of infection by delivering meals.

After three days, the neighbourhood raised close to $4,000.

“As the COVID-19 situation rapidly evolved at our hospital, our leaders had to make the difficult decision to stop accepting food donations,” says Rob Cameron, a fundraiser with the Foundation, whose job has changed to mostly promoting, communicating, and co-ordinating personal protective equipment (PPE) donations from the community the past month.

“When Ines contacted me, it was obvious that she and her neighbours were passionate about Guelph General Hospital and the well-being of our employees. As we discussed how to make it happen, I could tell that it was going to be something special.”

For Watson, it was good news.

“It was really thoughtful,” she says. “It’s amazing what people are willing to do right now to support each other.”

Watson is running the now takeout-only business with Ladhani and the help of their four children.

They have enjoyed some good times since opening the location in 2013 but have had a difficult journey collectively the past few years. Watson was diagnosed with breast cancer in 2017 but got through the treatment and returned to work.

Then in 2018, while she and Ladhani were overseas, a fire gutted the restaurant. The initial closure was expected to last four to six months but it ended up being more than a year, crippling their ability to provide for the family.

York Rd Kitchen had only reopened in October 2019. They were finally enjoying some much-needed momentum when the pandemic changed everything.

“It’s been a roller-coaster over the last three years,” says Watson. “Going through cancer treatment was terrifying, and it took me out of work. We were just getting back up and running.

“It’s tough times.”

Watson adds it has been difficult to know what to do from a business standpoint. Her, Ladhani, and the children go from their house to the restaurant and are simply trying to stay safe while making meals for their loyal customers. An added obstacle is that they are paying five times the insurance for the business following the fire and it’s been hard to keep up with that bill alone.

The injection from the gift certificates will help. And the family is honoured to be able to assist the Guelph General workers.

Cameron has alerted the staff to the donation, in addition to several other similar projects, like one group that collected 155 gift certificates from six different restaurants. It will then be a matter of figuring out the distribution details.

The York Rd Kitchen gift certificates will come in $25 denominations so a hospital staff member can purchase a meal on their own schedule. Each of those meals will come with a handwritten note from both children and adults in the neighbourhood.

“I know staff will be so very grateful to all who supported this project,” says Cameron.

“How great to be able to pick up a prepared meal on their way home from a shift, or on a day off? It’s one less thing to worry about as they rest and prepare for their next shift.”

Mazzotta, a mother of two with her own design business, understands how the pandemic has changed people’s incomes. Watson and Ladhani are their neighbours and close friends so the idea to help them, while also providing support to the Guelph General staff, was a natural fit.

“There is power in numbers,” Mazzotta says. “This is not 10 individuals donating $400. This is many people chipping in and the impact is great.

“All we are asked is to do is sit on our butts at home. But these people are going to work, knowing they are facing danger.

“It is the least we can do. And it gives them a little bit of relief.”