Thwarted in her initial effort to feed hungry, less-fortunate Greater Sudburians, Chantelle Dupuis could have given up.
Few could have blamed her. A mother with a full-time job, Dupuis had a lot on her plate as it was. Yet she couldn’t stop thinking about the empty plates of so many who had fallen on hard times.
Through drive and determination and the support of others in her community — and now, grocery giant Metro — Dupuis has built Bizzzy Bea’s into a non-profit that can count 40 volunteers, four cooks and a rented, inspected kitchen dedicated to providing nutritious meals to those in need.
“It’s really exciting, because when I started, I was never picturing it being a non-profit organization,” said Dupuis, reached during a break from her day job at Martin Clinic on Lasalle Boulevard. “Having the honour of a large corporation like Metro joining in, that was the furthest thing from my mind. I was just trying to do a good deed and show my kids that if you’re lucky enough to have what you have, you should pay it forward, because you never know what the future holds.
“To skip ahead only 19 months and already be here, it’s very surreal. It’s dreamlike.”
In December 2020, Dupuis saw on social media that Froogle’s, a local store that donates nearly expired food to families in need, had given one family more than they could use, and offered to delivery the excess to charities for distribution.
“I had noticed a lot of the homeless on the streets, a lot of people in our community just having a really tough time,” she recalled. “I asked if I could pick it up and bring it to some of the local non-profit organizations that would be able to use food like that. She said definitely, so I picked it up and I went downtown, thinking OK, that’s my good deed — pick it up, drop it off, end of story. Keep it simple and continue on with everyday life.”
She was disappointed to learn, however, that because of COVID-19 restrictions and the impending expiry date of the products, the organizations were unable to accept the food.
“I was frustrated and confused,” Dupuis said.
But she was undaunted. She went home and, tapping into work experience that included 10 years managing a restaurant, she decided to cook the food herself and deliver it personally.
“When I started pulling out of the boxes out of the trunk of the car, looking at what was involved, it was literally all the ingredients that my grandma used to make us when we were kids. It was a fricassee meal — just a bunch of leftovers, whether it’s bacon, roast beef, potatoes, onions, and you just throw it all in a pan with a big pound of butter and you just fry it up.”
The selection of ingredients could not have been more fitting, as it was her late grandmother, Beatrice, whose giving nature had helped to inspire Dupuis.
“It was shaved beef, onions, bacon bits, two big bags of potatoes, and I thought this is uncanny, how it’s exactly what my grandma used to make for us,” she said. “It was like fate. It was too coincidental.
“I reached out to a couple of local restaurants, got free containers, free cutlery, because they were like it’s Chantelle, of course she would do this. I made 25 meals and I decided to head down by myself, thinking it would take me hours to find 25 people. It took me maybe 20 minutes. I got the privilege of sitting with them and sparking up conversations, hearing how they had ended up in these situations, how they ended up on hard times.”
She was struck by how similar their lives had been to her own, before circumstances changed.
“When you’re already living paycheque to paycheque and something happens, it’s very easy to fall in those cracks,” Dupuis suggested. “If something happened to my husband, that could be me and my kids, because we rely a lot more on his paycheque than mine and we live in the comfort of his paycheque coming in. It really hit home how fast that can happen to anybody, along with mental health, along with addiction, along with all of that, kind of intertwined.”
After three hours or so, she went home and told her husband that if donations kept coming, she was going to keep cooking and making deliveries downtown once or twice a week.
“He chuckled, because he knows how stubborn I am,” Dupuis said with a laugh.
“I made a Facebook post and in a few days, strangers were reaching out, saying hey, I have all this extra stuff, I’m not going to be able to use it, would you use it?”
Within a week, she had settled on a name for the new venture, Bizzzy Bea’s, after her grandmother.
“She was always busy helping, whether it was a stranger, whether it was a family member, whether it was somebody on the street — there was always someone she was bringing home, bringing into the house, taking care of. It was in memory of my grandma, keeping her legacy alive and the overall good human she was and the heart that she had. I wanted her to be remembered for that.”
Bizzzy Bea’s was not the only non-profit to provide meals and deliver food to those experiencing homelessness, but Dupuis and her growing group of volunteers focused on those who had yet to be reached.
“We pack up the meals and we get in our cars and we go to them,” she said. “We find them in their tent cities, we find them in their little encampments in the bush. This winter, it was cold, minus-30 out and blizzards and stuff, but they didn’t have to leave the warmth of their tent. We were able to go to them.
“There was that comfort of them being important. There was that feeling that they matter to us. It’s not just here’s your meal, catch you later. We want to know how they’re doing. We want to make sure they don’t just have food, but they have a friend and we’re there to get to know them as a person, not just somebody standing on the corner of the street.”
She was happy to meet a need and her heart was warmed by the community support for her initiative. She was shocked, however, when Summer Martin, a public relations professional at Agnostic, a firm representing Metro, reached out to tell her about a new campaign called My Place.
“My Place is about that comfort of taking a bite of something and it almost takes you back in time, to that feeling of, for example, me in my grandma’s kitchen, cutting up the roast beef or the potatoes or stirring in the butter,” Dupuis explained. “When I eat that fricassee, or even when I smell it, I’m right back to being seven, eight years old and helping my grandmother in the kitchen.”
Those good feelings are shared by folks downtown, she said, when they receive a container of Bizzzy Bea’s food.
“They know we’re there for them. There’s no judgement, no nothing. It’s just friends taking care of friends. Summer really saw the potential that the My Place campaign and Bizzzy Bea’s could have together, so she reached out and it’s truly an honour to be partnering up with them, that’s for sure.”
With the help of her local Metro store, Bizzzy Bea’s plans to provide meals this summer to cool down the body and bring a sense of place to the community.
“Thank goodness I have the volunteers that I have,” Dupuis said. “This winter, for example, hockey was starting back up and my son was very excited to get back into his sports, so I relied on my volunteers to help.
“This is a team I don’t just have to do this by myself anymore. We all work together and if I can’t be there, I know for a fact that one of the other girls will step in if I’m away for a day or two or whatever the case might be. We’re really a team and really a family and we all lean on each other. In good times, we celebrate and we have lost some of our friends downtown, so we have been to a funeral. I definitely would not be able to do this without them, that’s for sure.”
Bizzzy Bea’s hopes to have its kitchen back up and running in the middle of the month, pending certification by public health officials, and will ramp up the preparation and delivery of those much-needed meals.
“Partnering with Metro, I hope we can get the message out across Ontario that it’s something so simple that can start something this big,” Dupuis said.
“Anybody can do this, so we’re hoping with this campaign spreading across Ontario, that if Kingston wants to reach out and open up their own Bizzzy Bea’s kitchen over there, we can show them the way and how to do that, or Timmins, North Bay — there’s so many cities going through this right now and I think people are intimidated by the idea of starting this, but it’s really not that hard, as long as you have a team that jumps in with you.”
Find Bizzzy Bea’s online at www.bizzzybeas.ca.