Serving up Strikes: Waitresses Bowl to Help Save Toronto Foodbank

bowling-waitresses.jpgWhen Julie Baelde took Landmark Education’s Self-Expression and Leadership Program she was clear from the outset that she wanted to impact the community of waitresses and servers that she worked with and socialized with. She wanted to have the community do more than drink and gossip together; she wanted to have them come together in some way that was fun but actually made a difference.

When Baelde, who lives in Toronto, heard about the plight of the Parkdale Food Bank, the project she would undertake became clear to her. She created ‘Serving up Strikes’, a fundraiser for the food bank in the form of a bowlathon that used a pledge drive and raffles to raise money. With the help of her friends Emma Stevenson-Blythe, Jessica Charbonneau and Joanne Costain, the event was held in early March and raised $12,655 for the food bank. About 200 people attended the event and over 120 of them bowled: Twenty-four different neighborhood hot spots fielded a team of six. According to Baelde, the local community of waitresses and servers came together in a way they never had before. The unusual event attracted the attention of Toronto Sun columnist Mike Strobel, whose article appears below:

Waitresses score high in big-heartedness by organizing a bowling tourney to benefit the Parkdale Food Bank 

 by Mike Strobel, Toronto Sun, 2/28/08

Push comes to shove, baby, we’re on our own.

Case in point: The Parkdale Food Bank, newly back from the dead.

Who saved it?

Politicos? Sorry, too busy at the trough.

Bay Street? Get lost, there’s a bear market, you know.

The Catholic Church? Perish the thought.

bowling-2.jpgNossir, the salvation of the Parkdale Food Bank has been wrought with the help of waitresses.  

Which brings me to Queen’s Pasta, a cheery Italian place in Bloor West Village.

Julie Baelde, 38, and Emma Stevenson-Blythe, 24, work here.

Julie had the idea.

She was tired of the local servers’ social scene.

“We were just going out drinking after work and gossiping,” she tells me.

Yes, sounds familiar.

“I wanted to create something for us to do as a group and I thought of a bowling tournament.”

The next morning, she read about the plight of the Parkdale Food Bank.

A bell rang.

Julie and Emma went down to the food bank, a hole in the wall on King St. W., near Jameson.

Not a pretty sight.

Just three jars of peanut butter, 600 hungry families on the list, and the smell of doom in the cold air.

The church had just dropped funding.

“We’re in serious trouble,” volunteer Robert Thorpe, 53, told the two waitresses.

bowling-3.jpgHe showed them around. This takes maybe five seconds, especially when the mood is as dim as the lights, and the shelves are as vacant as the waiting eyes.

Julie started to cry right there.

“Please, don’t do that,” said Thorpe, who has seen it all.

“I can’t help it,” said Julie, and Emma started to cry, too.

Many people cry when they see hardship. They sniffle and snort, then they go back to their condo for a stiff Scotch to douse the sorrow.

But Julie and Emma dabbed their cheeks and got to work.

They held a quickie food drive at Queen’s Pasta, then set their sights on the bowling tourney.

Joanne Costain, 28, of Shakey’s Original Bar and Grill, joined up. Back home in P.E.I., she used to volunteer at soup kitchens.

Jessica Charbonneau, 23, at Villa, another Italian place, is working her way through Humber College’s public relations program.

So she was a hot prospect.

But Jessica and Julie had never liked each other. Apparently, such things happen even among waitresses.

“We just rubbed each other the wrong way,” says Julie. “Someone told me, ‘We know you don’t like her, but we need her.’

“So we had a talk and decided this was too important and we should be friends.”

“Now,” grins Jessica, “she calls me more often than my mother.”

And so it went.

Waitresses from Bloor West, Roncesvalles and The Junction, all working to help folks in poorer Parkdale.

Twenty restaurants formed bowling teams.

bowling-4.jpgLocal shops offered mountain bikes, haircuts, concert tickets, sunglasses, winery tours, Raptors jerseys and spa days as draw prizes.

Voja Jurisic, the only Serb marketing man in Malta Village, did the brochures gratis.

A name, Serving Up Strikes, came out of a brainstorming session at the Swan and Firkin.

After a scrambly few weeks, the tourney goes next Monday 10 p.m. to 2 a.m. (slow time in the serving biz) at Bowlerama West on Dundas St. W.

More than 100 waitresses and waiters will bowl. The final tally is likely to be near $10,000.

That will go into the pot keeping Parkdale Food Bank afloat while Thorpe, now the director, seeks firm financing.

Since the alarm sounded around Christmas, 16 fund-raising events have sprung up, unsolicited.

Tomorrow, for instance, jazzy bluesman Big Rude Jake plays the Reservoir Lounge, 52 Wellington St. E., 9:30 p.m. Bring cash and food donations.

That’s how it works.

You might die of old age waiting for the powers that be.

Power to the people.

“We’re not just waitresses,” says sweet Julie Baelde.

“You don’t have to have a big career to make a difference.

“You just have to decide to do something and commit to it.

“It can be just us girls from Bloor West Village.

“You don’t have to be anybody special.”

Well, I wouldn’t say that, ladies.

Baelde says the event was such a success that it’s been agreed that the community will have a bowlathon every March. To see the original Toronto Sun article, go to the newspaper’s website.

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