P.E.I. woman raises thousands for displaced seniors through seafood chowder sales

·3 min read
Nancy Heffell has been the manager of the Bakin' Express in Richmond for five years, but has been with Bakin' Donuts for 27 years. (Nicola MacLeod/CBC - image credit)
Nancy Heffell has been the manager of the Bakin' Express in Richmond for five years, but has been with Bakin' Donuts for 27 years. (Nicola MacLeod/CBC - image credit)

Nancy Heffell started with two bags of frozen lobster and the hope to raise $300.

The manager of the Bakin' Express in Richmond wanted to do something after 47 residents at La Coopérative Le Chez-Nous in neighbouring Wellington were displaced by a fire in their long-term care facility in January.

She decided to put a donation jar out on the counter.

"There was only $5. Then there was $10. What's that goign to do? So I went into my freezer and I looked and I had two great big bags of lobster," she said.

"I was telling my customers. Like, what can I do? And all of a sudden everybody started giving me lobster, they gave me potatoes, they gave me onions."

That's how the idea for Heffell's lobster chowder fundraiser began. It quickly became a community effort with friends, locals and other businesses donating vegetables, fish, rolls and desserts to go with the meal.

"It just blew up because everybody decided that they wanted to help, and they did," she said.

In the end, she raised $5,500 in the community of 3,000 for the residents at Le Chez-Nous.

Bakin' Express was able to sell the fundraiser chowder through the drive-thru, even during the province's COVID-19 lockdown.
Bakin' Express was able to sell the fundraiser chowder through the drive-thru, even during the province's COVID-19 lockdown.(Nicola MacLeod/CBC)

"It was an amazing thing, just to see everybody for these people. A lot of my customers here, they have people at the Chez-Nous," she said.

"Just take one person with an idea and everybody rolls with it."

Storms and lockdown

Heffell faced some challenges.

On the first day of sales, Feb. 8, the entire province was hit with a storm and on the second day, March 1, the entire province went into lockdown. Then there was another storm.

She was able to make modifications and press on, selling through the drive-thru when in-room dining closed.

"So everybody came out once again," she said. "I was so impressed."

Situated on the side of the highway in Richmond, cars honk 'hello' when they drive by.
Situated on the side of the highway in Richmond, cars honk 'hello' when they drive by.(Nicola MacLeod/CBC)

Heffell said customers came from Richmond, Evangeline and from surrounding communities as far away as Summerside.

"It was like family.. I knew a lot of them. Some I was related to," she said.

As for how she makes her chowder, the 27-year Bakin' Donuts veteran has some musts: a roux base, lobster paste and lobster juice.

"It gives the flavour … If you're going to have water, it's not going to be the same thing," she said.

"I don't think each pot was the same, it's a pinch of this and a pinch of that and I hope this is good. I had taste testers."

Heffell said the money will now be used to help residents who lost things in the fire and perhaps did not have insurance.

"They lost their hearing aids, they lost their slippers," she said.

"All their personal belongings, they have nothing."

Coming together

Heffell said the rallying is about more than people wanting some seafood chowder.

She has been the manager of the restaurant for five years and also lives in an apartment above the Bakin' Express with her four cats. She said the restaurant serves as a gathering place for the community.

"A lot of people come here just to hang out, they drink coffee, they have their breakfast, and a lot of them stay for a couple of hours," she said.

"I would say these are probably my closest friends, most definitely.

"This is where I belong."

More from CBC P.E.I.