10th Annual Unlikely Pairing event raises $125,000 for Christie Lake Kids

Proceeds to help run after-school programs for kids from low-income families in Ottawa
Tracy Rait-Parkes, left, and her husband Scott Parkes, chair of the An Unlikely Pairing: Adventures in Food Trucks and Fine Wines fundraiser for Christie Lake Kids, at their Glebe home on Saturday, November 20, 2021, during a remote dinner event that included Parkes' cousin, Julie Taggart, who's on the board of Christie Lake Kids, and her husband, Andy Edmondson. Photo by Caroline Phillips
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Formal dining rooms in homes around the city made a giant comeback Saturday night. That’s because caring donors and loyal supporters of Christie Lake Kids hosted their own small dinner parties as part of An Unlikely Pairing: Adventures in Food Trucks and Fine Wines.

Now in its 10th year, the annual event is the most important fundraiser for Christie Lake Kids (CLK). It’s a crucial source of revenue for the nonprofit organization, which helps kids from low-income families by sending them to summer camp and by offering free after-school programs.

“This fundraiser is vital,” said CLK director of fundraising and communications Natalie Benson, who was thrilled to see the evening net $125,000. “We’re so lucky to have such a committed and loyal group of businesses that support us.”

An Unlikely Pairing usually takes place as a large dinner gala at Ashbury College, a private school located in Rockcliffe Park. Organizers switched in 2020 to small remote gatherings after COVID-19 arrived on scene.

The fundraiser has been chaired for years by Scott Parkes. The father of three is co-president of Tamarack Homes and Tartan Homes, which are part of the Taggart Group of Companies owned by the Taggarts and Parkes. Their Taggart Parkes Foundation is title sponsor of An Unlikely Pairing.

“I don’t know where we would be without Scott in so many facets,” said Benson of his strong leadership, business connections and behind-the-scenes contributions.

Parkes and his wife, Tracy Rait-Parkes, hosted friends over at their Glebe home Saturday night. Their gathering was one of about 20 larger dinner parties happening that night, along with dozens of other couples or small groups who also took part.

From left, Eileen and Steve Mlikan of Larchwood Urban Developments, with Tracy Rait-Parkes, Warren Newberry (owner of Commercial Roofing Inc.), Scott Parkes (Tamarack Homes, Tartan Homes), consultant Kellie Major, Julie Taggart (Taggart Realty Management) and Andy Edmondson, and Jenny Noonan with Mark Noonan (Deloitte), at a remote Unlikely Pairing dinner party in support of Christie Lake Kids. Photo by Caroline Phillips

Parkes invited his cousin Julie Taggart to join them. She’s co-president of Taggart Realty Management and on the board of CLK. Guests also included Mark Noonan, vice chair at Deloitte, which was also one of the sponsors of the gourmet food trucks. 

Participants received four-course dinners from either Angry Dragonz, Green Papaya, Smokin R & Rs and Ad Mare.

The fundraiser featured a short video, emceed by Ryan Watson from Raising the Bid, for participants to learn more about the good work CLK is doing in the community. It included RedBlacks defensive lineman Kene Onyeka, who also has a mechanical engineering degree from Carleton University. He became inspired to pursue a professional career in football after a Toronto Argonaut’s player visited his Brampton high school when he was younger. He’s now doing what he can to inspire kids who love and play football to “maybe even put them on the same trajectory,” said Onyeka. He donated a signed football jersey to the online auction, by the way.

Featured items of the auction included $10,000-worth of gift cards from Muskoka Cabinet Company, a pair of courtside seats to a Toronto Raptors game, $1,000 to spend at Howard Fine Jewellers donated by co-owner Stephanie Appotive, and a premium suite to an Ottawa Senators game. Also sold off were several pieces of original artwork created by children who participate in CLK programs.

On Friday, volunteers were stationed at Enbridge headquarters on Coventry Road, assembling hundreds of party boxes to be delivered to homes the next day. Helping out were staff from Enbridge and from CLV Group, which was named Outstanding Corporate Philanthropist by the Ottawa chapter of the Association of Fundraising Professionals at its annual awards dinner held just the week before. 

From back left, CLV Group's Olabanke Olaleye, Brooke Kelly-Sipes, Evan Johnson, Justin Reis (front left), Ashley Peeling and Erin McEvoy were among the volunteers who helped to assemble the party boxes for this year's An Unlikely Pairing: Adventures in Food Trucks and Fine Wines in support of Christie Lake Kids. Photo by Caroline Phillips
From left, Mike O'Brien, Jeremy Miller, Anik Benoit, Tracey Jones and Mike McTaggart from the Enbridge crew helped to assemble the party boxes for this year's An Unlikely Pairing: Adventures in Food Trucks and Fine Wines in support of Christie Lake Kids. Photo by Caroline Phillips
From left, Natalie Benson, director of fundraising and communications at Christie Lake Kids, and Jacqueline Searle, fundraising and events coordinator, were busy over the weekend helping with the assembly and delivery of party boxes for their signature fundraiser, An Unlikely Pairing: Adventures in Food Trucks and Fine Wines. Photo by Caroline Phillips

The party boxes came with a table centrepiece and wine pairings, as well as cocktails sponsored by excelHR CEO Kathryn Tremblay in memory of her late husband and business partner, Toni Guimarães. Growing up, he was a proud CLK camper. There was also whiskey from Perth-based Top Shelf Distillers, which provided dessert liquors.

Funds raised support CLK’s STAR (Skills Through Arts and Recreation) after-school programs. They’re offered in the Overbrook, Caldwell, Somerset West, Heatherington and Strathcona Heights neighbourhoods. CLK is hoping to bring the program back to the Russell Heights community in the new year, once the Dempsey Community Centre is no longer being used for COVID-related reasons.

The proceeds from the gala also allow CLK to run its free hockey program, which had to be cancelled last year due to the pandemic. The organization transports its young players to and from the rinks and provides the equipment.

“This gala has really helped us to return to in-person programs,” said Benson. “We’re just so thrilled to be back in these neighbourhoods, back in these community centres, back running programs at completely no cost. 

“There are so many kids that need us.”

CLK has about 600 individual kids who participate in its programs. Many of them also attend two weeks of summer camp at the organization’s 88-acre property on Christie Lake, near Perth.