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Heroes of Heron Emergency Food Centre - Penny Kelly

Updated: Mar 30, 2019

by Lynn Sherwood, April 2019

If you visit HEFC any Wednesday evening between 6 and 8 Pm you will meet Penny Kelly at the front counter. She will greet you with a friendly smile and will ask how you are feeling, and how she can help, as she bundles up a three-day supply of nutritious food. She will probably tuck in a few “extras”, depending on your circumstances, selected from among the kind donations from our community. Your child will get some snacks; single seniors will get something special to go with a cup of tea, to help life seem a bit kinder.

Penny has been volunteering at HEFC since 2011, knows just about everything there is to know about our program, and is our April Hero.

Each day HEFC is open, Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday and Friday, a different team of volunteers provides service, supervised by Louisa Simms, our Executive Co-ordinator.

Penny Kelly, Hero for April

On Wednesday evening (a very busy time) clients of HEFC are first registered by Louisa, who meets with them in a small private office and enters identifying information into our computer database. Then they wait their turn to step up to the counter where they meet Penny, our Front Woman. Her support team includes Omar, who gets items from fridge and freezer put together to pack; Styve, who oversees a smooth operation - from supporting volunteers to helping restock the shelves consistently - and Moe who packs the items in a fantastically conscientious fashion. A group of volunteer students also bag up portions of bulk food like rice and powdered milk and generally help out. Everyone on the team is responsible for making sure everything is spotlessly clean, wiping down counters, sweeping up spills, and putting everything in order before leaving at the end of the day. And all team members help to translate in Arabic and French for clients who have problems with English.


Penny enthuses about how much she loves her work at HEFC. She really enjoys the team of volunteers she has come to know over the years. She explains how her involvement also provides a great sense of meaning, knowing that she has helped to make life a bit easier for someone who is going through a rough patch. But, ultimately, volunteering at HEFC has expanded her horizons. As a long-time Ottawa girl, raising her three children in our secure city, helping her elderly parents and running a small business has left her with a desire for adventure and curiosity about the world outside her own experience. She has been able to meet people from all over the world at HEFC and to enter, just a little, into the very different lives they have lived.

One group in particular, the Nepalese, seemed to be very special. Penny recounted that these folks always came together, appearing to be intimidated by Canadian ways, and declined to take any meat, but were very grateful for fresh fruits and vegetables. Gentle, smiling, courteous and soft spoken, they appeared to be peaceful and serene despite their difficult circumstances far from their homeland. Penny felt drawn to them. She described how she returned home from a day at HEFC working with these people, turned on the computer and saw an advertisement for a trip to Nepal. Taking this as a sign from the universe, she immediately booked a trip to Nepal herself, actually hiked the Annapurna Circuit in the Himalayas and spent some time in Katmandu learning about Nepalese culture. She brought back a key chain for each of her Nepalese client families as well as an assosrtment of much appreciated spices from back home. What a wonderful adventure and what a fearless way to explore the world!


Penny also described how she came to appreciate that many people are unfamiliar with the kinds of food we provide at HEFC (canned tuna for example) or are, perhaps, vegetarian or on special diets. Often they will say; “It’s okay I don’t need that” and will take less than their entitlement, saying that someone else may need it more. She wants all our community donors to know that folks who visit HEFC don’t just take as much as they can get, that they are both mindful and respectful of the needs of others.

Every culture has their own culinary tradition, indeed the wide variety of ethnic restaurants which have sprung up in Ottawa in recent years has added greatly to the richness of experience of Ottawa life. - We all remember the days when egg rolls were considered to be pretty exotic. - Times change, thankfully! Many of us will also recall the sheer bliss of eating familiar food - a well-made hamburger with French fries for example - in some exotic Asian locale and can appreciate the universal longing for familiar comfort food.

It may be a bit of a learning curve, but hopefully we at HEFC can adapt to the changing dietary preferences of our clients over the years!

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