By Charlie Senack –
When Moe Atallah moved to Canada from Lebanon in 1976, he was determined to spread the Christmas spirit.
He opened the Newport Restaurant in 1988, and immediately knew he wanted to do something for the less fortunate in our community. Every December 25, Moe opened the doors of his Westboro restaurant at the corner of Richmond and Churchill, and fed a few hundred people a free Christmas meal.
“When we started the first year we thought we’d have 20-40 people,” says Moe. “The second year we had a few hundred, and every year more people came and more people volunteered and helped.”
Those who came to the restaurant on Christmas left with more than a meal, he adds. “Lots of customers brought lots of toys and gifts. We also had hats, mittens and scarves which were knitted by some of our volunteers, but we also had to buy some because we never had enough.”
The tradition that Moe never expected to grow went on for nearly 30 years until the restaurant downsized and moved to Churchill and Scott (formally Donna’s Express) in 2012.
Where does Moe’s passion to help the community come from? His love for Elvis Presley.
“Elvis always had a big heart, and all his life, gave away stuff,” he says. “He was the most generous even though he came from a poor family.”
Moe started the Elvis Sighting Society of Ottawa in April 1989 alongside his two best friends, former Ottawa Citizen and Sun columnist Earl McRae, and pool player Ervin Budge.
His work in the community has not gone unnoticed. Moe has been recognized as a United Way Ottawa Community Builder, is a recipient of the Order of Ottawa, and received the Key to the City in April of this year. Many of his accomplishments are also shown on the walls of his Westboro restaurant including newspaper clippings from the New York Times.
His accomplishments, he says, are thanks to the people of this community.
“In the end, I discovered I never did too much, it’s all thanks to the volunteers,” he says.
In 2002, the Newport Restaurant and the Elvis Sighting Society teamed up with Meals on Wheels to deliver Christmas dinners to seniors who wouldn’t necessarily have a place to go on Christmas. The now almost 17-year partnership couldn’t have come at a better time, says Baudouin St-Cyr, executive director of Meals on Wheels.
“Before 2002, there was a Christmas meal provided by a number of churches,” he says. “There were some concerns with food safety because it was donated food coming in and the kitchen couldn’t control temperatures as well as they should.”
That’s when Moe stepped in. He buys all the food and his staff volunteer their time to make it.
Between 100 to 150 meals are delivered to seniors every Christmas with 53 volunteers participating last year alone. “We make a full turkey dinner with vegetables, stuffing, mashed potatoes, and dessert. It only takes us two days of preparation now instead of weeks when we used to make food for thousands.”
Moe says despite no longer holding a Christmas dinner for hundreds of people, anyone who is in need of a meal on Christmas Day is welcome to stop by the restaurant between 8 a.m. and 2 p.m.