A community success story

Volunteers holding fruit and vegetables in a warehouse
Volunteers Kristine Erdman, France Spence and Anne Newell at Kingston’s Food Redistribution Warehouse

This week I want to tell you about a community success story.

For the past few days, I’ve been working at an amazing facility here in Kingston called the Community Food Redistribution Warehouse. The warehouse officially opened its doors in March and has quickly become a critical hub for collecting and redistributing food to those in need in our community.

I was at the warehouse all day on Wednesday. It was a constant hub of activity with trucks delivering entire skids of oranges, fresh berries, bread and other perishable supplies. I watched a truckload of milk being wheeled into their massive industrial freezers, ready to go to places like the Boys and Girls Club of Kingston and other agencies serving meals in the city. On Tuesday nights, they have a “bread group” that collects all the leftover bread from Cobb’s Bread and brings it to the warehouse.

The warehouse was the brainchild of a dedicated group of partners in Kingston which included the City of Kingston, United Way, Kingston Community Health Centres and Lionhearts who recognized the growing risk to food insecurity during the global pandemic.

Warehouse
Kingston’s Community Food Redistribution Warehouse. The large white structure on the left with the silver doors is one of their massive freezers.

I talked to Shawn Seargeant, Manager, Operations at Lionhearts when I was there. Lionhearts was founded in Kingston in 2014 by a group of community-minded individuals who wanted to help marginalized people in our community. They started serving 50 meals a day which quickly multiplied to 150 meals a day, then 400 meals a day at four different locations during the pandemic.

Shawn said the warehouse has been a godsend. They now have the facilities to take in excess food from restaurants and suppliers across the city, store it properly and redistribute it to agencies and programs in our community.

I asked Shawn and a few other people working there if other cities or centres had a warehouse like this. Guelph, with its large agricultural base has something similar, but for the most part Kingston is one of the few cities on the leading edge of solving the problem of food insecurity and providing universal access to food.

Before I left on Friday, I wandered into another section of the 11,000 square foot warehouse and found my friend France sorting vegetables and fruit with two other dedicated volunteers. France told me she loves working at the warehouse a few hours, three times a week—the volunteers there are a big family. I thanked them for making a difference in our community.

This week’s #HappyAct is to learn more about food insecurity in your community and help be a part of the solution. Here are a few ideas:

  • Grow your own fruit and vegetables in patio containers—donate extra produce to a neighbour, colleague or local charity.
  • Make a food donation to your local food bank. Summer is typically a time when the shelves start to empty out.
  • Build a food lending library in your neighbourhood. Stock it with extra fresh produce, or dried goods, free for the taking.
  • Roll up your sleeves and spend an hour or two working at your local community garden. Most neighbourhood cities have community gardens now that grow and supply fruit and vegetables to local food banks.
  • Support your local farmer’s markets—buy and shop local.
  • Be grateful every day for the food on your table and reduce food waste in your household.

If you’d like to learn more about the incredible work Lionhearts is doing, watch this video…

Explore a new neighbourhood

Graffiti
Street art installation on the Waterfront Trail at the Cataraqui River in Kingston

About a month ago, I started a new job. One of the perks of changing jobs is I’ve been able to explore a new area of Kingston on my daily walks at lunch.

This isn’t the touristy part of the Kingston. You won’t find photos of the north side of Princess Street in the glossy travel brochures, but I‘ve found my new little neighbourhood has heart and soul in spades and is full of hidden gems.

My first stroll took me down the Waterfront Trail along the Cataraqui River near the old Woolen Mill. There were dozens of swans gracefully swimming in the river, and turtles basking in the sunshine on the shore. A group of school girls were having their photos taken on the big grassy area by the water and people were out jogging and walking their dogs.

Across the trail was a street art installation with the most amazing graffiti. The sign said people were free to paint over any of the sections, but you could tell the graffiti had been there for some time.

Graffiti
Graffiti

The next day I walked up some of the back streets, past brightly coloured orange, yellow and green houses like you’d find in Newfoundland or Nova Scotia, and homes with kiosks out front saying, “Take what you need, leave what you can”. I found a poetry garden with a poem by Lorna Crozier and sidewalks with chalk signs that offered up lemonade and free dog biscuits.

Green coloured house
Yellow coloured house

Another day, I was walking along Rideau Street and saw a young woman walking a dog with gorgeous black, brown and white markings. The dog promptly stopped and sat down at the corner. I was curious why the dog stopped so I stood and watched. The girl looked over and smiled and waited.

The door to a house across the street swung open and another young woman emerged and crossed the road with a plastic bag full of dog treats. It was clear this was a daily routine. It was a beautiful moment that I felt lucky to witness that showed how deep and caring the connections were in my new neck of the woods.  

This week’s #HappyAct is to explore a new area of your city. You never know what hidden gems and stories you may find.

Food lending library
Poetry garden
Sidewalk sign lemonade and free dog treats

Take a trip down memory lane

Author with friends at Kingston's waterfront
Our Welli Boot Toss team in 1999. Kingston Brew Pub used to host a charity event in support of Hospice Kingston where you throw a Welli boot as far as you can. I threw my back out shortly after!

I’ve been awash in memories these past few weeks. After 27 years at Empire Life, I am taking early retirement and will begin a new job as Director of Development with the United Way of Kingston, Frontenac, Lennox and Addington in May.

I’m sure most people on the verge of retirement find themselves taking a trip down memory lane, but for me, it’s been a constant flood of memories since I’ve also been going through my company’s archives these last few months.

I’ve found pictures of me doing crazy things for charity, like jumping in Lake Ontario on December 31, 1999 for Y2K in the Polar Bear Plunge, dressing up for skits as part of our annual United Way campaign, and uncovering every lame Halloween costume I ever pulled together at the last minute. (I was notorious for lame Halloween costumes; it became a bit of a running gag between Dave and me.)

Two girls jumping in Lake Ontario
Jumping in Lake Ontario for charity on New Year’s Eve, Y2K

I also came across photos of people who have passed away, friends young and old who I still think about and miss to this day.

What I didn’t find were any pictures of me working. While I had an interesting and varied career, it won’t be memories of work that I’ll take away from my time at Empire; it will be the memories of the different events, fun times and people who made work-life happy and rich.

This week’s #HappyAct is to rifle through an old yearbook, photo album or drive and take a trip down memory lane. Here are some more of the favourite pictures I found.

Acting in a play
Playing Dr. Evil in one of our United Way skits.
Serving cake at my company's 75th anniversary
Helping serve cake at our company’s 75th-anniversary celebrations almost 25 years ago
Dressed up to judge our Halloween contest
Judging our annual Halloween contest–our President Doug is wearing Dave’s kilt!
Dressed up as Queen Amidala from Star Wars
One of my lame Halloween costume pics, Queen Amidala from Star Wars
Dressed up as KISS for Halloween
One of my best Halloween costumes of all time, KISS with fellow bandmates Jon Begg, Chris Seymour and Tracey Hunt. Any time I had a good Halloween costume it was because my co-workers took pity on me and helped with my costume and make-up

Adopt Happytalism

International Day of Happiness poster

A decade ago, the United Nations held its first ever conference on happiness and established an International Happiness Day to remind us that being happy is a human right and worth celebrating.

This year the significance of International Happiness Day on March 20 and the belief that happiness is a fundamental human right is playing out on the world stage as we watch millions of Ukranians refugees and citizens who have had their happiness ripped from them overnight with every Russian rocket, bomb and artillery strike.

In 2011, the UN General Assembly adopted a resolution that made it a “fundamental human goal” to give happiness as much priority as economic opportunity. In 2015, the UN launched the 17 Sustainable Development Goals, which seek to end poverty, reduce inequality, and protect our planet. It also recognized the need for a more inclusive, equitable and balanced approach to economic growth that promotes sustainable development, poverty eradication, happiness and the well-being of all peoples.

What’s interesting in all these resolutions is there is no mention of war or conflict and its impact on happiness; the focus is solely on economic factors.

Most likely that’s because in war, there is no happiness.

As we face this global crisis, let’s find positive ways to look after ourselves and each other and adopt Happytalism.

The UN secretariat for the International Day of Happiness is calling on all 7.8 billion people and all 206 nations and territories in our global community to take the “Ten Steps to Global Happiness” challenge and call to action. You can find all ten steps here. I’ve listed my top five, with the last one being my own:

  1. Celebrate the day. Do something special, just don’t let it pass by.
  2. Attend a world happiness event. There are live and virtual events on almost every topic imaginable, from education, health, technology, self and work. See the full list of events here. There’s a small cost to the virtual events, but in many cases, the proceeds go to helping others, like sponsoring a teacher that is helping underserved populations.
  3. Do what makes you happy. Happiness is about practicing self love, mindfulness, acting consciously, and with purpose and intention, positive energy and mindset, and celebrating the things you love that make you happy.
  4. Tell everyone. Spread the word and mission of #InternationalDayOfHappiness. Post something that makes you happy on social media, write a song or letter, make a poster.
  5. Support the people of the Ukraine. Make a donation. This CBC story lists charities you can support.

This week’s #HappyAct is to adopt and spread a more holistic, inclusive, equitable and balanced approach to the world order that promotes sustainable development, eradicates poverty and war, and focuses on the happiness and the well-being of all peoples.

#HappinessForAllForever.

Reflections on the next chapter from down under

Author on a recent trip to Canada

Special guest blog post by David Dawson

Recently I sang at the funeral of one of my fellow choristers who was only 20 years older than me. He was 85. It got me thinking of what I can still do with the remaining time left on my clock.

I was inspired in my reflections by a story in The Guardian about a psychiatrist who was diagnosed with bladder cancer and told he was going to die and daydreamed about becoming an actor. At the age of 63, he enrolled at the Royal Central School of Speech and Drama, and this month, at age 80, is the lead in the play Freud’s Last Session, at the King’s Head Theatre in London.

There are the limitations now set by age, which are about personal energy levels and the insight of a lifetime of experiences. While becoming aware of my shortcomings in life, I have accepted that I did the best I could at the time with what I had to work with.

Rather than castigate myself for not trying hard enough or being resilient enough to achieve an unimaginable goal, I would like to think all of that has prepared me for the next period of my life where I hope to do the work I have been trained to do by those around me: filling my time as much as I can with small acts of kindness. While these are small happy acts for me, I can only hope they are huge blessings for those around me. For this, I am blessed.

I’d like to leave you with a quote from The Guardian:

 “The more we are able to accept our achievements are largely out of our control, the easier it becomes to understand that our failures, and those of others, are too. And that in turn should increase our humility and the respect with which we treat our fellow citizens. Ultimately, as the writer David Roberts put it, ‘Building a more compassionate society means reminding ourselves of luck, and of the gratitude and obligations it entails.”

David Dawson has been weathering the pandemic down under with his faithful sidekick Brad the dog by his side, musing on politics, social media, religion and life.

Find meaning behind the words this season

Sign with words hope, peace, joy and love

Peace and goodwill. Comfort and joy.

You hear these words everywhere you go this time of year, in holiday cards, in songs, in greetings and on signs.

I noticed a slight variation this week on my favourite church sign. It said, “Wishing you peace, joy, happiness and strength”.

Strength. It was an interesting choice of words. Yes, more than anything right now, we need strength and resilience.

This week’s #HappyAct is to find meaning behind the words this holiday season.

May you experience,

Kindness and generosity of spirit
Love and laughter
The comfort of warm food and fond memories
Precious time to reflect and recharge
Moments of happiness and joy
And strength and acceptance to bring you peace this holiday season

From my family to yours, Merry Christmas.

Don’t miss next week’s special year-end edition of Top 10 Happy Acts, my favourite blog posts to help you get through another COVID winter.

And to the stranger who showed generosity of spirit and bought our hot chocolates at the McDonald’s drive-through in Kingston last Wednesday, thank you for paying it forward! We reciprocated and hope the person behind us enjoyed their McHappy Meal and chocolate shake.

Here’s to all the jolly old Saint Nicks

My daughter Clare with Santa

Last week, I took Friday off to do some Christmas shopping. I happened to walk past the mall Santa who was sitting alone on his red throne with his mask half-dangling beneath his snowy white beard.

A young family was just leaving, and I thought how sad it was that he was sitting there all alone. Usually there would be a line-up a mile long to see him, and I shouted, “Hi Santa” and gave him a big wave on the way by.

I started thinking about all the COVID Santas. Most of these guys are in their 70s, putting their health at risk letting tiny unvaccinated toddlers and babies sit on their lap to keep a time-honoured tradition alive and create special memories for their families.

We always knew Santa was a hero, but this year he’s earning his black buckled belt in kindness.

This week’s #HappyAct is to thank everyone who dons a red suit this time of year to make a child smile. Thanks Santa! (And if it’s not too much trouble, if you can add to your list an end to COVID in 2022, that would be great!)

Let the season of giving begin with giveshop.ca

Kid's sleigh for sale
Want this sleigh for your holiday greenery display? You can buy it on giveshop.ca for $20 with proceeds to United Way

November 30 is Giving Tuesday, the day when charities, companies and individuals join together to give to their favourite charities after the frenzy of Black Friday and Cyber Monday.

Luckily for those of us in Ontario, there’s a new website in town to make Giving Tuesday easy—giveshop.ca.

Giveshop was founded in Ottawa with a mission to help Canadians support their favourite charities and schools. It’s basically like Facebook marketplace. You put used items up for sale, or shop online, but all the funds go to charity.

Giveshop is still growing its community, so the majority of items listed are in the Ottawa area but there are charities listed in Kingston, Toronto and Vancouver. Some of the charities you can choose to direct funds to include Autism Speaks Canada, Make-a-Wish-Foundation of Canada, Muscular Dystrophy Canada, CHEO Foundation, Canadian Guide Dogs for the Blind, and United Way of Kingston, Frontenac, Lennox and Addington.

I listed two items for sale in support of my company’s United Way campaign, a bike and kid’s sleigh. It only took a few minutes to list my item, set a price and upload a picture. You can choose both the charity you want to support, and a specific campaign. Donors receive a charitable receipt for the purchase price.

As you start your holiday shopping, why not make it a goal to sell one used item cluttering up your house on Giveshop for every item you buy?

If you’d like to support our work campaign, choose United Way of Kingston, Frontenac, Lennox and Addington for the charity and Empire Life Charitable Campaign for the campaign.

TIP: Giveshop just launched its desktop app. I’d recommend accessing it mainly from your phone. The mobile app is less buggy and very easy to use.

This week’s #HappyAct is to get in the spirit of the giving season and become part of the giveshop community. Happy giving!

Bike for sale
Buy me on giveshop.ca!

In quest of the best BBQ

BBQ meat on a platter

If you’re a fan of Diners, Drive-ins and Dives with Guy Fieri, you’re familiar with the show’s formula of hitting the open road in quest of finding the best greasy spoons and BBQ joints in the southern U.S.

Finding finger-licking good BBQ in Canada is no easy task. In fact, in eastern Ontario, there’s only one contender. To discover the holy grill of BBQ, you need to travel to Muddy’s BBQ pit in Keene, Ontario.

Muddy’s BBQ pit opened up in July 2010, when owner Neil Lorenzen needed a home base for his budding BBQ catering business.

As Neil says, there’s no bad day for BBQ. On a hot summer’s day, you can have a pulled pork sandwich, dripping with flavour and a cold beer. On a cold rainy fall or spring day, you hunker inside, watch football, drink beer and chow down on beef brisket or fall off the bone ribs.

The first time we visited Muddy’s was three or four years ago when Clare was playing hockey regularly in the Peterborough area. It was a cooler November day and the girls were famished after a rowdy game with the local Keene team. We walked into Muddy’s and knew we found our new go-to food joint for weekend road trips.

Muddy's BBQ pit

Since it was a quiet day, they took us around back for a tour of the smokers. They had six to eight smokers going that day full of their signature brisket, pulled pork and ribs. They even smoke their potato salad. My mouth is drooling even thinking about the rich, smoky creamy potato concoction, which is to die for. They said they smoke about 600 lbs a meat a week and are booked every weekend in the summer with catering gigs.

Yes, you gotta love everything about Muddy’s. First, there’s the joint itself. From the road, it looks half barn, half converted garage with a patio and picnic tables out front, and high top wooden bar stools and counters for mowing down on the grub which is served without plates, in wrapped foil.

Then there’s the décor. You’ve got your regular road signs, sports memorabilia, and big screen TVs like you’d find in any sports bar, but just like the BBQ on the grill out back, they take it up a notch with Heinz ketchup punched tin lights hanging from the ceiling, cool stickers slapped on the exposed metal pipes, and signature pig signs.

Inside decor of Muddy's BBQ pit

But the BBQ, oh the BBQ. On your first visit, you have to try the carnivore sampler, a smorgasbord of their favourite signature dishes including ribs, pulled pork, brisket, sausages, and beans. The ribs are definitely my favourite. They are in a word, perfect. Smoky, flavourful, perfectly cooked so the meat does literally fall off the bone (people always say this but it’s never true except at Muddy’s). If you go, make sure you buy some of their signature rub to take home. It’s a staple in our cupboard now for salmon and steak.

This week’s #HappyAct is to take a trip to Keene before Muddy’s closes on December 16 for the season. And if you live too far away, feel free to substitute your local BBQ joint. Just know it won’t be the same. Follow them on Facebook and Instagram at Muddy’s BBQ pit. They’re closed Mondays and Tuesdays.

Muddy's BBQ pit sign

Hope for a better tomorrow

rainbow of children

Tomorrow we kick off our United Way campaign at work. Our theme this year is “A better tomorrow” to reflect, positivity, hope and to inspire change.

I’m hopeful our Empire Life campaign will be a success. Each year we raise more than a quarter of a million dollars for United Way programs and agencies across Canada, an impressive feat considering we have less than 1,000 employees.

But I’m hopeful for so much more. I’m hopeful that the worst of COVID is behind us, at least in Canada.

I’m hopeful that the lessons we’ve learned about the great divide between the privileged in our society and those less fortunate are taken to heart, and we take a critical look at our systems, supports and programs to make change for a better tomorrow.

I’m hopeful that companies will be brave and bold as they envision the future of work to provide a more holistic, balanced approach so employees around the world can lead richer, more rewarding lives.

I’m hopeful we can finally turn our attention to the greatest challenge we face: the climate crisis and saving our planet for ourselves, our children, and our children’s children.

These are big hopes, I know, but I can at least do my part by giving to United Way and help build a better tomorrow, one person, one program at a time in my own community.

This week’s #HappyAct is to give to your local United Way. Did you know the KFL&A United Way was recognized once by Charity Intelligence Canada on their top 100 Rated Charities list for 2021? They also recently announced a special Women United Challenge Grant. Under the existing Leadership Challenge Grant, supporters who give $1,200 or more and increase their donation or those who make a new $1,200 gift will see their donation matched. With the addition of the Women United grant, women donors will see their donation matched by both grants – tripling their impact through United Way KFL&A.