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Ottawa man exploring new ways to give back to community, encouraging others to get outside comfort zone

"I wanted to do something for this vulnerable group, and I thought, why don’t I give my time? That is what brought me to the Ottawa Mission," says Kathi Subramaniam.
2020-09-22 the ottawa mission
Food being served at the Ottawa Mission. Photo/ The Ottawa Mission

After coming to Canada in 2010, Kathi Subramaniam, a volunteer with citizen advocacy group ABLE 2, was searching for a way to further his passion for helping others in his community.

Initially Subramaniam was focusing on helping other newcomers to Canada when working with other organizations like the Ottawa Chinese Community Service Centre.  His contract would expire, however, in 2020 and with many services shutting down due to COVID-19, so Subramaniam stepped back and assessed what his next step would be.

“Over the last few months, I’ve been looking at what I call my ‘third act’. At this point in my life, I am looking at what I want to do. So, I am training myself to become a cook,” says Subramaniam.

During his time in Ottawa, he and his wife noticed a growing issue with homelessness in the city, so they began searching for organizations around Ottawa to donate to.

“As we were looking at organizations, I thought, 'Beyond donating what else can I do?'” says Subramaniam.  “I wanted to do something for this vulnerable group, and I thought, why don’t I give my time? That is what brought me to the Ottawa Mission.”

He began his time volunteering by doing whatever he could to help. While he began helping with general maintenance and warehouse work, he was excited to shift into helping in the kitchen.

By entering a program offered by the Ottawa Mission, Subramaniam is refining the culinary skills he has developed over the last 15 years through the Food Service Training Program.

“People need to live, they need to eat. Whatever situation they are in, they shouldn’t be deprived of food. And food is something that we must make available to everyone,” says Subramaniam.

“Especially when we get to have thanksgiving or Christmas meals, then you have people on the street who might not even get to eat; It breaks your heart when you see things like this.”

The Ottawa Mission has seen its Mobile Mission Meals program grow by 80 per cent over the last year. The initiative is aimed at delivering three meals a day to people experiencing homelessness without having to enter a shelter.

By August of 2021, the program had expanded to delivering 2,500 meals every day.

Subramaniam says that homelessness is an issue that is close to his heart, and he believes that hearing about homelessness and seeing the effects of it are two different things.

“Organizations like the Ottawa Mission would not be able to survive if people were not donating and volunteering, but I think it would be great if everyone would take a bit of time and engage,” says Subramaniam.

“I’m taking my experience from the Ottawa Mission, but there are so many ways people can help. They need help with laundry and cleaning, there are cooking and warehousing positions; there are a lot of opportunities there.”

Subramaniam believes that sometimes people need to act outside of their comfort zone, and that it is common for us to become so focused on our own lives that the needs of our neighbours can fall to the wayside.

Because of the size of their meals program, a lot of work goes into it, and Subramaniam says that there is never a shortage of work. Between the dine-in options, meal truck delivery and community outreach efforts there is always a need for volunteers.

He volunteers a few times a week, and while he says they always make him feel welcomed and are appreciative of whatever time he can give, he knows it is not at all about him.

“I don’t like the limelight, the volunteers are all amazing people. When you’re there, you can see that the passion is high. Everybody is always wanting to do more. It blows me away when all these young people and students are getting involved. You can really see the youth in action,” says Subramaniam.

“Seeing this, it tells me that Canada and Ottawa has hope.”

To find out more about the Ottawa Mission and volunteer opportunities, you can visit their website.
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