New Parkdale Food Centre executive director hopes to bring ‘predictability’ to role

Beth stands in a kitchen. Bowls of fruit are next to her.
New PFC executive director Beth Ciavaglia. Photo by Charlie Senack.

By Charlie Senack 

It’s been a tough few years for the Parkdale Food Centre. Rising costs, increased demand, and having to do more with less have resulted in challenges and cutbacks. 

An affordability crisis and rising inflation has resulted in more people than ever needing to rely on assistance. For the first time in over a decade, the PFC has a new executive director who said she is planning to use her philanthropy background to spark change.  

“I think I can bring some predictability to the centre and steady the ship,” said Beth Ciavaglia who took over the role in January. “I’m not looking to make dramatic moves or bring in new programs. We have to keep going.”

Ciavaglia took over for long-term executive director Karen Secord, who was involved in the organization for over 10 years. Secord left in June 2023 to pursue new opportunities. 

“During her time with PFC, Karen distinguished herself as a thought leader in food insecurity and in public policy,” wrote PFC board chair Deborah Abbott in a statement. “As a strong advocate for our community, Karen made a lasting impact on the Parkdale Food Centre and on our sector. With her help, we have forged important partnerships across the city, across the country, and even internationally, which will continue to shape our work.”

Born and raised in Ottawa, Ciavaglia was a physiotherapist who worked in the healthcare system for 20 years before switching to the long-term care sector. She knew Parkdale’s work through their reputation in the community, and wanted to work in an environment where change could be implemented more quickly. 

Rise in demand 

On average, the PFC feeds 100 people per meal, but reached a record-breaking 155 clients during their recent Chinese New Year celebrations. In January, the centre also gave food to about 1,400 people through its grocery program, Mino’Weesini. 

The grocer operates out of 5 Hamilton Ave. N. and costs about $18,000 a month to run. It saw a 33 per cent increase in calls for service last month. Users are able to go around the space and choose their own food items, much like a traditional supermarket experience. 

“It’s about giving dignity. People pick up their grocery cart and move around,” said Ciavaglia. “There is an open fridge with dairy and shelves with canned goods. You choose what you want based on the amount of points you have.”

Each client is given a certain number of points based on their needs. Mino’Weesini is currently piloting a project thanks to funding by RBC that allows the food bank users to tap a card at checkout, making it even more of a realistic shopping experience. 

A bowl of fruit.
The Parkdale Food Centre is facing rising costs and more demand as inflation continues to pinch the pockets of Ottawa residents. Photo by Charlie Senack.

Calls for support 

In 2023, PFC received 38 per cent of its funding through one-time donations totalling a little over $626,700. Its second biggest source of money came from grants at 24 per cent, with monthly donations being the third highest at almost 15 per cent. 

Ciavaglia said a misconception is PFC receives much of its funding from the three governments when, in fact, that only accounts for less than 16 per cent. The City of Ottawa gave $225,500, the federal government contributed almost $14,191, and only $2,857 came from the Province of Ontario. 

Last year the PFC’s full income bracket totalled $1,647,272.  

“We did have a funding shortfall. Typically November and December are our highest months for donations. This year we saw a significant decrease,” said Ciavaglia. “We are having to reset and figure out what we can do with less.” 

While one time donations are appreciated, Ciavaglia said monthly donations, even if just a few dollars each time, means the group has a more predictable income. 

The PFC is supported by food from the Ottawa Food Bank, but that organization shares food with 112 agencies, meaning their resources are also stretched. Much of the food used by the PFC kitchen staff for their meals is sourced from grocers that sell produce they don’t plan to use at $5 a box. 

“It feels a little unethical — it’s not a great choice — but it’s the reality of what we can afford to do,” said Ciavaglia. “We have to go through it and choose what we feel is comfortable and safe to serve.”

A colourful shed outside of the Parkdale Food Centre. Inside is where the community fridge is.
The Parkdale Food Centre’s community fridge used to be located outside of the building. File photo by Charlie Senack

Community fridge closes 

Limited resources and overwhelming needs in the community forced the PFC to close their community fridge at the beginning of February. 

The project was started to help break the stigma around food insecurity, but problems soon followed. The fridge was brought inside last year after it was lit on fire in Aug. 2022.

“People were lining up early in order to get two or three produce items that we could provide for them in a more dignified way with our food bank,” Ciavaglia said. “The decision had been a long time coming. We had meetings with the neighbors to discuss if there was a better way to make this work for everybody, but we just couldn’t change the dynamic of it.”

The PFC is asking for donations to help feed the community. More information can be found at

The Parkdale Food Centre is facing rising costs and more demand as inflation continues to pinch the pockets of Ottawa residents. Insert: New PFC executive director Beth Ciavaglia. All photos by Charlie Senack 

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