'They deserve a good meal'

·3 min read

It's not likely there's another non-profit meal program in the country that's had Arctic char and crème brûlée on its menu.

Thanks to chef Ken Bol and Tiffany Bol, co-owners of Bala Bay Takeaway, senior citizens were able to enjoy meals like this and more in 2020 through their partnership with the Bala Meals on Wheels program. It's one of many partnerships businesses and community organizations formed in Bala during this pandemic to help residents in need get by.

Linda Jackson-Hutton and Jack Hutton have been running Meals on Wheels since 1984, delivering freshly made meals to seniors and others who can't grocery shop or cook for themselves. When the pandemic hit last March, demand for their service skyrocketed.

"We're taking meals to more people than normal just because they are seniors," Jackson-Hutton said. "We're trying to keep seniors out of grocery stores."

At the beginning of 2020, they were seeking a new meal provider and were lucky enough to find one in the Bols. According to Linda, Tiffany offered their services to the Huttons and Meals on Wheels in February. Prior to the pandemic, they were busy running the Moon River Lookout restaurant and catering service, which closed in March. They opened up Bala Bay Takeaway on Muskoka District Road to serve the pandemic population.

"We were just so delighted," Jackson-Hutton said. "We didn't think that a restaurant that catered to weddings and, as Jack calls it, the carriage trade, would be interested in doing Meals on Wheels."

Today, their service has expanded to include deliveries to Port Carling, Glen Orchard and Walker's Point.

Ken Bol said he's tried to help out in Bala for as long as he's lived there, since 1989.

"I have a bad habit of too many irons in the fire," Bol said, mentioning his work as a hockey coach, volunteer firefighter, member of the Bala Legion and more.

He said it's been a difficult year, juggling his work with the Bala Bay Takeaway while preparing up to 20 meals some weeks for the Meals on Wheels' clients. At times, he said he didn't want to shoulder the responsibility, but in the end, wanted to be there for the clients.

"They deserve a good meal," he said. "A lot of people have dedicated their lives to this town and the people, so they certainly deserve to be taken care of."

Businesses and service clubs had a hand in several community endeavours during the pandemic. Bala Freshmart partnered with the West Muskoka Food Bank last year to provide a supply of dry and fresh foods, 20 per cent off the normal price with free delivery.

Kristen Thompson, manager of the food bank, said they approached Bala Freshmart about the partnership after deciding to only accept financial donations, no food donations, during the pandemic at the risk of contamination.

She said their support, with the food and delivery, has been "a godsend" and admires the way the larger community stepped up during the pandemic.

"We would be nowhere. We're just totally dependent on our community," she said.

STORY BEHIND THE STORY: For Metroland's series this week on local businesses, our reporter wanted to highlight positive stories of businesses not only thriving despite the pandemic, but paying it forward to those in need.

Zahraa Hmood, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, muskokaregion.com