Dozens of families participate in student-led cooking class fundraiser

By Charlie Senack 

A local teen with a passion for healthy food held a virtual cooking workshop in support of the Parkdale Food Centre (PFC) during the tough third wave of the pandemic.

Island Park resident Owen Hollingsworth is a Grade 12 student at R.I.S.E. Academy, an online virtual school for those who are passionate about local causes and social change issues. The new take on learning allows students to discover their strengths, motivations and passions — all while connecting with their community and co-creating passion-based projects.

The 18-year-old is currently taking three programs at R.I.S.E. Academy including food and nutrition. 

For his passion project, Hollingsworth teamed up with his longtime family friends, Korey Kealey and Erin Phillips, two nutrition experts who co-authored The Ultimate Cookbook for Hockey Families. 

Owen Hollingsworth stands on a snow covered rink during a snowy evening in Ottawa and he holds a hockey stick
Over 40 families gathered on Zoom for a virtual cooking workshop to make a “Hockey Pucks” recipe together. Student (and junior hockey player!) Owen Hollingsworth ran the fundraiser. Photo courtesy of Owen Hollingsworth.

“Owen sent me a text message asking me if I would like to do a healthy eating workshop like we did before for school,” said Kealey, who is also a Westboro resident and real estate agent. “As we brainstormed — because Owen is a junior hockey player himself — it made sense that, because Erin and I wrote a hockey cookbook that was nutrition-based, we could pull some of his favourite recipes.”

Hollingsworth chose a dish called “Hockey Pucks” for the event to be centred around, and wanted to partner with the PFC because it’s an organization he’s worked with in the past. 

“The Parkdale Food Centre is in the neighbourhood; I have handed out flyers for them before; my sister has done fundraisers with them; my family has been involved with them — so I thought this would be the perfect match to help people out during these times,” said Hollingsworth. 

The cooking workshop was held on April 7 and over 40 families took part. During the roughly one-hour event, everyone prepared the dish together from the comfort of their own homes and had the opportunity to learn about healthy eating and nutrition. 

Erin Phillips, a local real estate agent married to former Ottawa Senators player Chris Phillips — who also made an appearance in the cooking workshop — said with more people sitting at home during the COVID-19 pandemic, watching what you eat is more important than ever. 

“It has been pretty hard being at home and not being able to get out and be active, like going to the gym which a lot of people do,” said Phillips. “Another important reason to look after nutrition during this pandemic is to keep your immune system up — and that’s not being talked about as much as it should be.” 

Rebecca Chambers, the founder and principal of R.I.S.E. Academy, said she is proud of Hollingsworth for what he has accomplished during his time with her at the academy. She says R.I.S.E. is all about helping to support the community in ways students are passionate about. 

Chambers also says Hollingsworth calls himself the “Ultimate Riser,” a name that has stuck and she agrees with. Beyond the virtual cooking workshop, the Grade 12 student has also taken part in multiple other social-change projects. 

“It has been really rewarding watching Owen from September until now and the work he has done,” she said. “Owen has done so much this quadmester. He has interviewed over 25 people from around the world on different topics for a podcast, and he has raised money for a scholarship for a kid at R.I.S.E. so that people who cannot afford it can still take the opportunity to do these types of things.” 

Hollingsworth was able to raise $900 for the PFC and says he wants to organize similar projects in the future. Through hockey and his big heart, the 18-year-old knows his actions will stretch beyond the virtual walls of R.I.S.E. Academy. 

“I have not planned anything for the future yet, but I have done similar things in the past with my hockey team: I have organized Christmas hampers and have given food and gifts to underprivileged families during the holidays,” he said. 

“That is something I likely want to continue,” added Hollingsworth. “I could not do it this year because of COVID[-19] restrictions. It was hard to get to different households, but it’s something I plan to do again soon in the future.”


Impact on the Parkdale Food Centre

Serving over 1,045 households a month, the PFC has been busy during the COVID-19 pandemic. Not being able to invite individuals into their space, the centre has been busy delivering food boxes to families that need support.

Meredith Kerr, communications and donor relations manager at the PFC, says generous fundraisers like this are much appreciated — especially at a time when demand has grown and fundraising campaigns have been put to a halt. 

“This type of initiative— especially when they engage our youth through healthy food and community, which we do — is really great to see,” she said. “It helps to secure finances which we don’t typically often have — especially now when we are unable to run our own fundraising events like we typically would because we can’t collectively come together in spaces.”

The PFC has a $22,000 grocery budget a month which can put a strain on their finances. Kerr says with families at home more now because of the pandemic, food is not lasting as long and more people are requiring a bit of support. 

According to the 2021 Canada Food Report, the yearly cost of food for families could go up by as much as $695 this year. Last year’s report predicted the average Canadian family would spend up to $12,667 on food in 2020. This will negatively impact the finances at the PFC, which is already stretching every penny they get. 

“Things are pricey; food is not cheap,” said Kerr. “I can’t imagine having to make that choice for my family: whether to get a box of cereal or choose a thing of broccoli.”

“They are forecasting a huge explosion in food prices and I think we are going to feel the effects of that coming into the summer,” Kerr added. 

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