Skip to main content

Ottawa Food Bank CEO credits Concordia theatre studies for non-profit skill set

Rachael Wilson uses creativity, collaboration and communication to address increasing need for food distribution programs
December 15, 2023
By Julie Barlow, MA 94

Rachael Wilson, BFA 98, would love to see her business shrink.

A woman with long brown hair wearing a collection of silver necklaces and a pink jacket stands smiling in front of a stack of printed carboard boxes that say 'Thank you for your contribution. “Rents have skyrocketed and food is incredibly expensive," says Rachael Wilson, CEO of the Ottawa Food Bank.”

Since becoming CEO of the Ottawa Food Bank in September 2020, demand in the community has exploded.

“More individuals from more backgrounds need help feeding themselves now. We’ve seen a 68 per cent increase in the number of visitors since 2019 and things are not slowing down. We had a 22 per cent increase in the number of visits in the last year alone,” she says.

“People typically think of a food bank as [a service for] people who are homeless or unhoused. But that is a very small portion of the people we serve. Rents have skyrocketed and food is incredibly expensive. But people can’t miss their rent, so they cut on food. We are seeing families and individuals who just cannot afford to live in a city like Ottawa, as well as people who are employed.”

The Ottawa Food Bank is an umbrella organization that raises funds for, and manages donations to, 112 programs that distribute food. But, because of inflation, Wilson explains, donations of non-perishable foods to the Ottawa Food Bank have decreased by 30 per cent. 

Fortunately, Wilson has been able to increase monetary donations dramatically. Since 2019, the Ottawa Food Bank has gone raising $15 million to $30 million. “Donations are critical because we get less than two per cent of our funding from any level of government.”

A ‘natural progression’ from theatre to fundraising

Wilson maintains that Concordia’s Theatre program gave her the skills she needed to build her career in fundraising and management. “The Theatre program was hands-on and practical. We were doing plays, working on projects. I liked the creative, behind-the-scenes work and leadership, defining a vision and then bringing everyone together to realize it,” says Wilson, who previously worked in fundraising leadership roles the Ottawa Regional Cancer Foundation, the National Arts Centre, the Canadian Curling Association and more. 

The switch from theatre studies to grant work and fundraising was a natural progression, she says. “Fundraising is about communicating vision and direction for an organization, and showing donors how they can help support and move this vision forward. That’s what I've done in every single role that I’ve had. I think that stems from that work in theatre.”

‘We need to address the root causes of poverty’

Wilson’s goal now is to make the Ottawa Food Bank much smaller she says. “Giving people food is not a solution. Every time the food bank gets bigger, it means that we’re doing something wrong as a community.”

The solution, she says, is reducing needs at their source. “We’ve got to deal with what the real issue is, which is income. Almost everyone that we serve is on some form of social assistance. We really need to address those root causes of poverty so that food assistance is truly an emergency response — an occasional thing that people need.”

To that end, Wilson says the Ottawa Food Bank is collaborating with other like-minded organizations to influence policy. “We are working really hard with provincial and national associations to push policy changes at the municipal level to create affordable housing and affordable transit — those are the real answers.”

Back to top

© Concordia University