In the kitchen of Paramount Fine Foods in Burlington, Ont., the team is hard at work cooking hundreds of hot meals.
The restaurant is closed to indoor dining to comply with COVID-19 guidelines so the tables are empty, but the workers are busy.
There is chicken roasting, salad tossing, and baklava and water bottles being carefully placed in shiny black boxes. Soon, the lunches will be packed into several waiting vehicles and delivered to three long-term care homes in Hamilton and Burlington.
“It’s a meal of gratitude, we call it, because we’re so grateful for what they’re doing,” said Mohamad Fakih, founder and CEO of the Canadian restaurant chain.
Fakih has partnered with SEIU Healthcare, a union in Ontario with more than 60,000 essential health-care workers, in an effort to provide hot meals to those working on the front line of the crisis in long-term care homes.
The “Food for the LTC Frontline” campaign has delivered thousands of hot meals to workers every day since its launch in January.
“I was watching what was happening. Thirty-seven-hundred seniors died in our community and it was hurting me. You know, I grew up in a community where treating our seniors says a lot about us,” explained Fakih.
He grew up in Beirut, Lebanon and came to Canada in 1999 with little more than a dream to be successful and to give back.
Fakih has succeeded on both fronts and continues with his current focus on the hard-hit sector of long-term care by “taking care of those taking care of others.”
“I have been in the war, I have lived in bunkers. And I always came out with a smile because I believe there is a light that will come but would only come if we help each other, would only come if we help the most vulnerable, like the seniors and the workers stuck there alone,” he said.
The objective of the campaign is to expand the reach of the program as additional donations and resources come in, and deliver up to 30-thousand meals over the next two months.
Fakih has financed a large portion of the project, with the Islamic Relief charity contributing and individuals donating as well.
“Unfortunately, we lost a lot of people during COVID and that hurts my heart. But there is a positive side of this … we only can continue, we only can come back in a good recovery if we come back together.”
After the boxes are filled, it’s time to deliver the meals.
Front-door COVID-19 screener Cathy McLennan greets Fakih’s team, to gather the boxes for the staff waiting inside.
“It’s been a hard year for all of us and the residents especially not being able to do and see everybody they love … 12-hour shifts, 16-hour shifts, 24-hour shifts, coming in in the middle of the night just to help out for 15 minutes … we would do anything for our residents in here,” she said.
McLennan’s eyes fill with tears at the sight of the free boxed lunches for the team.
“It’s hard to express … I get emotional when people do things like this because it may be a little thing but it means so much to us,” she added.
At the next stop, a larger crowd has gathered outside a long-term care home in Hamilton. The group is cheering and shouting thanks.
“I just looked at all the lunches they brought today and it’s extremely impressive and extremely appreciated,” said Dave Rogers. “We don’t get to see the appreciation first hand so it’s nice when someone comes and brings us all lunch.”
For Fakih, who is known as much for his business sense as he is known for his social activism and philanthropy, the next day cannot come soon enough.
“When I leave, I want to do it again. And the minute I’m done … I wish it didn’t end,” he said.
If he is able to, Fakih would like to expand the campaign and serve meals of thanks to long-term care homes across Canada.
“To everyone out there, giving back feels amazing,” he said, adding “maybe I’m not changing their life but I’m sure we’re making one day better for them.”View link »