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Arlene Dickinson’s District Ventures Capital makes $50,000 food donation to Second Harvest

Organizations challenge corporate Canada to match donation in ‘Give Thanks’ campaign
10/6/2023
arlene dickinson second harvest
Arlene Dickinson (left) and Lori Nikkel (right). Photography courtesy Second Harvest

District Ventures Capital, led by founder and general partner Arlene Dickinson, has made a massive $50,000 donation to food rescue organization Second Harvest. And all it took was a simple question. 

“I asked Arlene if she would be an ambassador to Second Harvest and she said, ‘You betcha,’ says Lori Nikkel, CEO of Second Harvest. “It was the easiest ask ever.” 

Dickinson reached out to a number of food companies in her venture capital fund, which invests in innovative businesses in the food and beverage and health and wellness sectors. Chickapea, Three Farmers Food, Queen Street, Fody Food Co., Balzac’s Coffee and Genuine Tea all stepped up to help Canadians experiencing food insecurity. 

“We reached out to them and said, ‘We think we should do something here. There are people who are in need, so what can we do collectively?’” says Dickinson. “The companies rallied together and said they’re going to work together and support this. So, it was a real joint effort.” 

READ: Food charities expect to add more programs in 2023 amid high demand

What makes the donation special is that many of the participating companies offer food for people with various dietary restrictions. They face additional challenges accessing food that caters to their needs, whether it’s because of higher food costs or a dearth of availability at food banks. 

“There are people who are low-income who have the same dietary issues as other Canadians… but they don’t have the same access to the food,” says Nikkel. “When you don’t have money to purchase food – period – these things come even further out of reach for you and your family. Beyond the food [donation] itself is how important and significant it is to tailor to a certain demographic of need that isn’t often looked upon.” 

arlene dickinson second harvest
Photography courtesy Second Harvest

Among the companies that donated, Fody Food offers gut-friendly sauces and condiments for people who have IBS or are struggling with digestive issues. Three Farmers offers a variety of lentil and fava bean snacks. And Chickapea specializes in pasta made from chickpeas and lentils. “[Chickapea noodles] are great not just because of gluten intolerances but also because they’re high in protein and protein is an issue when you’re low-income,” says Nikkel. “It’s the most expensive food, so it’s the most limited food.” 

For Dickinson, teaming up with Second Harvest was a natural fit. “I have a significant interest in food, food security, food safety and food accessibility in Canada – it’s what I focus on in my investing,” she says. “Second Harvest is doing such a good job of making sure that food is getting to people. So, it was just a natural fit for our organization to support what they’re trying to do.” 

READ: Rising interest rates and the silent hunger

It was also very personal. “I grew up very poor and food was not always something that we could put on the table,” says Dickinson, who immigrated to Canada with her family at a young age. “We had no money. Going to get groceries was not something you could predict every week or whenever we needed food. It happened whenever we could afford it. And so, I understand what it’s like to feel like you don’t have access to food as you need it.”

Ahead of Thanksgiving, District Ventures Capital and Second Harvest launched the “Give Thanks” campaign, which encourages food companies and Canadians to join the fight against food insecurity

Nikkel notes that the food companies that contributed to the $50,000 donation are all small businesses, so the donation is significant for them. “We said, ‘if they could do it, can corporate Canada – big businesses – match that $50,000 worth of food?’” Nikkel says. “If you’re an individual, can you give $5 or $500?” 

Dickinson adds: “I’m hoping corporate Canada steps up and I’m hoping individuals rally around it and say, ‘there is something we can do here.’ It’s easy to donate and it’s meaningful.” 

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