Barbara Blackstein donated 35 original paintings, including this one of the sugar bush season, for the auction this Saturday, April 15, 2023. Debbi Christinck, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter

The St. Joseph’s Community Food Bank is kicking off its Building Better Capital Campaign with an auction this Saturday of 35 original paintings by local award-winning artist Barbara Blackstein.

“It is the right time and the right cause,” the Pembroke artist said of her decision to donate so many original works of art to one event. “The greatest cause we are hearing about now is food insecurity.”

Along with her husband, Fred, the couple are well-known for their involvement in the community and donating to the community, although she is usually more behind the scenes. Many people are familiar with her work from the painting she made for the 1994 International Plowing Match (IPM) which was then used on posters and publicity materials. In turn, he was the chair of the IPM which went on to raise enough funds for the introduction of the 911 signage system in the county. 

The impetus for contributing the paintings for the capital campaign kick off and auction for the food bank was following a visit to the food bank where they were dropping off a donation. Seeing the need first hand as volunteers struggled to unload food and move it to the very tight space showed how clearly there was a need for a bigger food bank and this galvanized her to action. 

“We were offered a tour and saw senior volunteers working hard unloading groceries and they told us about the need for more space at the food bank,” she recalled. “They had been planning on launching a capital campaign and this seemed to be a very good cause.”

Mrs. Blackstein had been in the process of recovering some paintings from galleries that were closing in various locations in the Ottawa Valley, so she had a good number of them available. 

“I decided to donate all the works to facilitate a grand kick-off for the campaign,” she said. 

For the food bank executive, it was a great way to generate some interest and have a truly unique kick-off event. 

“There could not be a more worthy cause,” Mrs. Blackstein added. “And the 35 paintings are catalogued, priced and ready to go.”

The pieces are all originals and either watercolour, acrylic, oils and a few chalk pastels. As an interesting note, in her signature, she always includes FOWS which stands for Fellow Ottawa Watercolour Society. 

The event on Saturday at the Germania Club will have 25 paintings up for a silent auction and 10 paintings will be through an auction/bidding process. To start the auction, each painting has been given a minimum price which is 60 percent off what the selling price was listed at the galleries, she explained. This can begin the bidding at a discounted price, but also acknowledging the value of the painting. The idea is to raise as much money as possible for the food bank capital campaign, so anything which does not receive a minimum bid will be sold at another location later with the proceeds going to the food bank capital campaign. 

The Blacksteins said it is important to note Mulvihill Drug Mart have also stepped up to support the event through sponsorship including the rental and the cost of the gala. 

Mrs. Blackstein noted there will be a few “celebrity” auctioneers including former Pembroke Mayor Ed Jacyno and former Petawawa Mayor Bob Sweet. She said having this kind of support for the event is very meaningful. this is the biggest donation she has ever made of her work for a fundraiser. 

“I’ve donated through the years to other places but usually it is just one painting,” she said. 

Need for Expansion

Rene Lachapelle, the superintendent of operations and president of the food bank, SAID they were thrilled when Mrs. Blackstein offered her paintings as a kick-off event because they wanted to start the campaign with something very unique and special. 

“We are expecting a good crowd on Saturday,” he said. 

Having a successful kick off to the campaign will be a big boost, he added. 

The food bank has seen the need grow dramatically in recent years and quite simply needs more space, he stressed. While all options are on the table, including purchasing land and building a new food bank, renovating or purchasing a building and renovating, he said right now they are just excited to get the Building Better campaign started so they can plan for the future. 

“We are always raising funds for food purchases,” he noted. “This is for the capital campaign.”

St. Joseph’s Food Bank was established in 1986. At the time the Salvation Army operated a food bank in the community but was struggling to meet the need (the Salvation Army has since closed the Pembroke operations). The food bank has operated out of the Holy Name Church Annex for the past 36 years. The food bank relies on volunteer support and public donations to fulfil its mission. 

The food bank has been operating in the same facility with no additional space or renovations. Now the plans are in place to expand or build to meet rising demand and adjust to current needs. The need is increasing quickly, he noted. 

“Last year we fed 202 people per week and right now we are feeding 230 people per week,” he said. 

However, the most dramatic increase was experienced during the pandemic and it has continued to grow. 

“Before the pandemic it was 89 people per week,” he said. 

According to stats from the food bank, between 2007 and 2019 an average of 50,000 meals were provided each year. In 2022, this had doubled to over 100,000 meals. Factors driving the need for a new food bank include not only the growth in demand, but inflation which has had a devastating effect on fixed income clients and the working poor, with food insecurity increasing demands. As well, there is a need to provide healthier products and having healthy, fresh food requires better refrigeration and freezing equipment. 

The increase in need means the food bank is short 1,000 square feet of warehousing and administrative space. Food storage space and delivery space are on two levels, increasing risks to workplace safety as well. The aging chest freezers and coolers are not enough to meet the need and the food bank is finding more and more food deliveries are palletized so without adequate loading space, shipments on pallets must be dismantled by hand and carried into the building. 

The St. Joseph’s Food Bank is the only food bank in Pembroke. There are two soup kitchens which are also in operation. 

Mr. Lachapelle said they are very excited about the event this weekend and he stressed it is open to anyone. 

“There is no admission charge,” he said. “It is a drop in. The doors open at 3 and then at 3:30 we will start the introductions and then the auctions.”

As well, anyone wanting to donate to the Let’s Build Better Project can mail donations, e-transfer to or donate online through the’s-build-better. 

The gala kick-off and auction IS Saturday, April 15th at 3:30 at the Germania Club Hall in Pembroke. Along with the auction, there will be wine and cheese and musical entertainment provide by Zephyr.

By Debbi Christinck, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter

Original Published on Apr 13, 2023

This item reprinted with permission from   The Eganville Leader   Eganville, Ontario
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