Canadian restaurant supply company raises funds for Ukraine


A Canadian catering supplies company is raising money for Ukraine despite its own loss of revenue over the past two years, in a bid to inspire more businesses and industries to do the same.

Russell Hendrix supplies restaurants across the country with everything from refrigeration units to utensils. Since March 2020, their industry has taken a big hit.

“At the start of the pandemic, we were down 50-60% of total volume,” said CEO Tom Pitera. “We felt the effects with everyone in the industry. Nobody knew if it was going to last 30 days, 90 days, nine months or two years.”

The company had to lay off workers and close showrooms, including the Brockville site, as COVID took hold.

Now that the restrictions are lifted, they are eager to get back on track.

“We are really optimistic right now about the recovery of the industry and all we hope is that there will be no more closures, no more restrictions,” Pitera said, noting that approximately 100 of these laid off workers have returned to work.

“Our customers’ customers want to come back and enjoy the restaurants and sit in the restaurants,” he added.

But as the world watched events unfold in Ukraine, Pitera realized his industry could help, even though his business is still recovering.

“For 60 years, Russell Hendrix has been supporting customers who basically care about their customers,” Pitera said. “That’s what the restaurant industry is for, taking care of people.”

Unable to send supplies to Europe, they decided to fundraise instead.

This week they launched a campaign to help the Canadian Red Cross, donating $25,000 immediately with a minimum pledge of $50,000 and matching up to 5% of their online sales from their two websites each week.

“I suspect the weekly donation could be between $10,000 and $20,000,” Pitera said. “It could be higher than that, depending on the volume that passes through our websites.”

The company also matches every employee donation up to $250. Employees have already donated $2,000 in the past two days alone, according to Luke Vanderbaaren, purchasing manager for Russell Hendrix in Brockville.

“There are so many people being forced out of their homes and all we can do to help is what we’re trying to do here,” he said. “The support from our staff and supplier community has been tremendous so far.”

“What we’re trying to promote is a groundswell for the restaurant industry in Canada to step up and help those two and a half million people right now who really need financial support and emotional,” added Pitera.

Pitera said the campaign was put together in about five days and took less than 36 hours to set up with the Red Cross.

“We really appreciate what the Red Cross is doing on the ground and I hope our financial support will help them in this endeavour,” he said.

“Yes, we are still suffering from the pandemic, but it was the right thing to do and the right time to do it.”

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