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NEWS: Open kitchen (Jan. 2018)

January 29th, 2018 · No Comments

Media coverage saves program for now

Newcomer Kitchen began at Butler’s Pantry on Markham Street before moving to Depanneur on College Street when Butler’s Pantry was closed due to the Mirvish Village redevelopment. BRIAN BURCHELL/GLEANER NEWS

By Geremy Bordonaro

A streak of luck, international media attention, and more than a little bit of hope have saved Newcomer Kitchen, which had its roots in Mirvish Village. The Gleaner first covered the initiative — which gave Syrian refugees temporarily housed in hotels the opportunity to make a home-cooked meal from a stocked restaurant kitchen — in May 2016.

After running for nearly two years, it seemed like the last meal would be cooked in December 2017. Administrative costs were high and, without funding, there was no way to keep up with the growing program.

Then, an article on the program’s financial troubles appeared in a Toronto daily newspaper, a documentary filmmaker amended her online funding campaign, and donations started to pour in. Within a day, Newcomer Kitchen was saved.

Kelli Kieley is the filmmaker who managed the online fundraising campaign. She used an existing Indiegogo campaign, which she had created to fund her documentary Shway Shway: The Newcomer Kitchen Story. She started working on her film almost as soon as Newcomer Kitchen got cooking.

“It was something that I wanted to witness myself,” she said, highlighting the interest in Syrian culture and the unique setting. “There’s a reason everybody is interested. Many people want to help other people. Hear their stories. Feel connected to the community by helping.”

Kieley heard about the program from someone who had been in one of previous films and was compelled to make a documentary about it.

“We were hearing more and more about the families stuck in the hotels,” explained Len Senater. “It became clear that those families had no access to kitchens at all to cook for themselves or their families. I have this large kitchen and I have a venue…that is not being used during the day. Why not invite these families to come so that they can cook food for themselves and for their family.”

“I…bumped into Len Senater…who had been in a series I had produced at Bell,” Kieley said. “He told me about Newcomer Kitchen and I said ‘Oh my God. I totally have to film this.’ It was myself and a cinematographer, who actually spoke Arabic himself by luck, who would show up and start filming prior to all the news coming out. And then it sort of became a viral story not long after that.”

Newcomer Kitchen got a lot of attention — even landing on the front page of The New York Times in early January. It’s thanks to this attention that it’s been able to keep going.

“It feels really good,” said Kieley. “The whole thing that happened with Newcomer Kitchen was magical.”

While Newcomer Kitchen has been saved for now, there are still worries about the future. It’s not lost on the mind of Atique Azad, a friend and mentor to Senater, who helped set up a pop-up brunch at Butler’s Pantry when it was operating out of Mirvish Village.

“[Longevity] is a driving force,” said Azad. “For a project like this it’s important to keep the future in mind.”



NEWS (JUNE 2016): Building community over fattoush

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