Gary Zed launches holiday campaigns by giving $100K and issuing challenge for matching dollars

Campaigns to benefit Shepherds of Good Hope, Ottawa Mission, Food Bank, Boys and Girls Club — and local business owners
Philanthropist Gary Zed at fine food shop La Bottega Nicastro in the ByWard Market on Tuesday, Dec. 1, 2020, for the launch of his 25 Days of Christmas fundraiser for the Shepherds of Good Hope — one of several charities Zed has partnered with to help nonprofits and local business during the pandemic. Photo by Caroline Phillips
Editor's Note is supported by the generous patronage of Mark Motors and Sparks Dental. Read their stories here.


Almost anyone can cut a cheque for charity or, better yet, click an online “donate” button. What’s made Gary Zed such a noteworthy figure as an Ottawa philanthropist is how he manages to inject imagination and ingenuity into his charitable work.

Zed has just launched a series of campaigns to not only help the poor, hungry, homeless and vulnerable but to also simultaneously bolster small business in these trying COVID times. He’s donating a total of $100,000 on behalf of himself and his family to help several local charities. He’s also partnering with the charities in such a way that his efforts are helping local businesses as they brace for a grim winter.

Zed’s ultimate goal is to light a philanthropic fire under others to be more generous, particularly as the coronavirus pandemic rages on. Forget about the so-called ripple effect; Zed is looking to create a tidal wave of support during the holiday season and beyond by challenging the community to donate and create impact for small business.

“There are a lot of people in this city who have done extremely well in the pandemic, or have been relatively unscathed, and they need to think about that,” Zed told “If you are getting a paycheque, feel blessed; if you are in a thriving sector, feel blessed; if you are retired and enjoying your hard-earned pension, feel blessed. There are a number of groups not getting a paycheque, and sectors that are not thriving, that are not resilient to the pandemic.”

Zed is calling for other business leaders to match his $100,000 donation.

“One hundred thousand dollars is a lot of money – don’t get me wrong, it’s a lot of money – but we have the potential to generate millions of dollars in economic activity to help bridge hundreds of small businesses and their families and employees over the next few months, to help keep them afloat. It's about keeping the wheels going on the machine."

He's hardly begun in his fundraising efforts and has already elicited $300K in matches.

On Tuesday, Zed launched his 25 Days of Christmas campaign in support of the Shepherds of Good Hope. He was joined by Pat Nicastro at his Italian fine food shop, La Bottega Nicastro, located in the ByWard Market. La Bottega is a supporting partner of the campaign.

From Dec. 1 to Dec. 25, Zed is donating $1,000 each day, for a total of $25,000, to the Shepherds, a local nonprofit stalwart that provides food, shelter, clothing, supportive housing and other services to homeless men and women. His contributions will help the organization serve 9,500 meals throughout the month of December.

From left, David Gourlay from the Shepherds of Good Hope with supporters Gary Zed and Pat Nicastro, owner of fine food shop La Bottega Nicastro in the ByWard Market, on Tuesday, Dec. 1, 2020, for the launch of Zed's 25 Days of Christmas campaign for the Shepherds. Photo by Caroline Phillips

“The Shepherds of Good Hope are full of gratitude for the philanthropy by Gary in our community,” David Gourlay, director of philanthropy at the Shepherds, told “He is a true ambassador of hope and a champion for dignity in our city.”

Zed is encouraging others to match his daily donations. Canadian Red Cross director of internal audit Kaveh Rikhtegar, who’s on the Shepherds’ foundation board, already has. He made a five-day donation of $5,000. They were both at Shepherds’ successful 2019 Grinch Dinner, which isn’t happening this year.

The 25 Days of Christmas campaign is merely one part of Zed’s larger plan to help charities and small businesses throughout the holiday season and beyond. The Ottawa Mission and Ottawa Food Bank are also at the top of Zed’s nice list.

“I want to, hopefully, inspire other people in the community to say, ‘Why aren’t we doing something, too?’” said Zed.

Here’s where things get really interesting. Zed is working with local restaurants and food retailers – such as La Bottega – to feed people in need, whether it’s the homeless people at the Shepherds and Mission, or families living in emergency housing motels. Zed is absorbing all or any costs associated with providing the meals.

“My priority was to not put more pressure on the backs of small business,” explained Zed, who’s also in the process of acquiring hundreds of pairs of long johns through Bentons, a men’s clothing store on Sparks Street, to help those people living on the streets to stay warm.

As well, Zed is supporting the Boys and Girls Club of Ottawa, of which he’s a long-time board member. He bought $10,000 worth of gift cards at local pizza chain Gabriel’s Pizza, owned by George Hanna. The cards will be included in the holiday food hampers for the BGCO kids to take home and share with their families. The nonprofit organization provides free after-school programs for youth and runs an overnight summer camp.

'One act can have many impacts'

It was important to Zed that his family’s gift: serve as a solution to a social problem, have a pay-it-forward element that supports local business, and be leveraged by the charities, in terms of matching the cause as ‘a call to action’ to the donor base.

His three children, all of whom are young adults, were very much involved in the decision-making process on how the family could help the community during the holiday season. They suggested which charities they thought were most in need of support.

Zed gave his stamp of approval, but with a twist. “I said, ‘Let’s not just give them money; let’s give it with purpose; let’s give it with impact.'

"Collectively, one act can have many impacts. I call it 'impact investing.'"

It’s crucial that the community's generosity continue into January and February, which are expected to be bleak months for the business community, said Zed.

“We don’t want this to be just a start-and-stop effort, so partner up with a charity and help your local business get through these next few months."