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The Globe and Mail

Alberta’s food businesses serving up aid to Fort McMurray residents

An aerial view of the devastation caused by the wildfire that forced the evacuation of the city is seen during Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau's helicopter tour in Fort McMurray, Alberta, Canada May 13, 2016.


As we've seen before with the Calgary flood of 2013, Albertans rarely skip a beat to help one another when things take a turn for the worse. You know that famous saying about certain people being so nice, so giving, that they'd give you the shirts off of their backs if you asked them to? Over the past few weeks, that would apply to a long list of Calgary businesses and people.

Take, for example, the evening of May 11, when the Concorde Entertainment Group – Calgary's largest restaurant and bar company that owns properties such as National, Double Zero Pizza and Sky 360 – flexed its muscles to drum up funds to aid in the Fort McMurray crisis at their National location on 10th Avenue. The result? More than $33,000 for the relief effort.

"We have the venues, we have the people and we have the ability to take some action and we did just that. Concorde has always been very involved in the community here in Calgary. This may be happening 750 kilometres north, but this is Alberta. These are our neighbours and they need all of our support," explains the company's operations manager, Jon Molyneux.

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"We are fortunate to have the venues and the people to be able to give back in meaningful ways," Mr. Molyneux says. "I feel very fortunate to have partners and a team at Concorde that are always eager to do whatever we can to give back."

One of the most active local companies in food and drink-related fundraisers to date has been Big Rock Brewery. The iconic Alberta brewery has been offering up kegs, bottles and cans of their beers to anything from small neighbourhood pub events to the two-day music extravaganza Rockin' 4 Fort McMurray that recently took place at Broken City.

"This isn't the first time we've seen the province rally together to help one another for a cause. Being able to help in some way, in any way, shows what Alberta is all about," brewery representative Josh Lau says. "At the brewery, we're trying to do as much as we can, just like everybody else."

Kerry Bennett, owner and operator of Care Bakery, originally wanted to do something on a smaller scale to raise a bit of money for the Alberta city that she used to call home. What started out as a casual backyard barbecue two weeks ago – asking 20 friends to bring $20 for dinner – gained traction on social media and transformed into a huge event sponsored by companies such as Big Rock Brewery, 4K Farms and Meta4Foods and involved local chefs including the Unicorn Superpub's Mel Lafleur and SAIT culinary instructor Kyle Groves. The backyard-dinner-turned-large-scale-event saw more than 150 attendees and $4,100 raised, which makes "Pork Mac" one of the larger food-related fundraisers to date.

"So many people jumped on board and donated time, food, energy and talents. It was overwhelming how magical that event was," Mr. Lau says. "It really was that quintessential 'many hands make for light work' mentality and the amount of money raised was completely unexpected."

It doesn't stop there, though. This coming Thursday, Kensington's popular watering hole Oak Tree Tavern is offering up a night full of food and music courtesy of local musician Matt Masters in the name of Fort McMurray relief. As well, on May 29, you can head to Hotel Arts for a chef collaborative dinner, Fish Sauce II, that features an illustrious lineup of talented Calgary chefs including Jan Hansen of Hotel Arts, Roy Oh of Anju, Neil McCue of Whitehall and many more.

The six-course dinner will be accompanied by an auction with a variety of prizes as well as a live performance from local singer-songwriter Amy Thiessen, whose single Alberta Roads is also driving funds up north. The evening will be emceed by Shaw TV host Erin Strate and – full disclosure – me.

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Looking further down the road, Mr. Molyneux says the Concorde Entertainment Group is looking to offer more support toward the rebuilding of Fort McMurray by way of their annual National Charity Golf Tournament on Sept. 1 at the Inglewood Golf Club, though a specific Fort McMurray charitable organization has not been decided on just yet.

"I don't think we're done by a long shot as there is obviously a substantial amount of finances required to rebuild Fort Mac," Mr. Lau says on the brewery continuing to support local initiatives. "The genuine sense of community here is tangible and it's infectious. Seeing people come together in times like this does warm the heart and it really puts things into perspective."

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