THE FAB FOUR. On the day Keith’s closed, three years ago last week, from left, Vilma Moretti, Lori Terpstra, Helen Stiff, and Kelly Stewart. VOICE FILE

Pelham Cares and Fonthill Legion benefit from unique fundraiser

Vilma Moretti and Todd Crick’s offer to donate half the proceeds from “Keith’s Pies – A Recipe Book” to the Fonthill Legion, “Touched me really hard, and the volunteers doing all this work too, because we were starting to run out of money and we didn’t want to stop this,” says Toni McKelvie, President of the Royal Canadian Legion Talbot Trail – Branch 613.

“So what we were thinking of doing was pooling the tips we’ve made over the year, and start using that to pay for food. We didn’t start asking people for money, we didn’t want to be that way. We thought we could do it with what we had. Now, with what Vilma’s doing, we can carry on for a while.”

McKelvie adds that as of this writing, the volunteers of Branch 613 have distributed 2657 free meals to veterans and seniors in need.

“That’s a lot of meals, a lot of food,” she continues. “Let’s put it this way, this is something I never, ever dreamed would be this big.”

When the Fonthill Legion embarked on their Heat and Serve program to deliver prepared meals to veterans and seniors, they anticipated providing a few hundred meals, and only for a two -week duration.

“The Vets are starting to step forward now and ask for help,” says McKelvie. “At the beginning, they didn’t ask for help, they didn’t want it. They said give it to somebody that really needs it, we’re okay. Now we’re getting calls from their kids and families, ‘Hey, can you help out my dad, my mom.’”

When McKelvie responds that their senior parents are claiming to be okay, the kids tell her, “They’re not okay.”

Legion volunteers drop the meals off, no questions asked, and the vets are happy and accepting of that.

“The Vets are very proud people, and they never want to ask for help,” says McKelvie.

The meals are prepared and packaged by a kitchen staff of approximately 15, working five per-shift, all volunteers, which allows Moretti and Crick’s donation to be directed to purchasing the vast quantity of food required to maintain the program.

A different crew works dawn to dusk Friday preparing some 150 dinners for Friday Fish and Chips drive-thru. The funds raised by this regular event help immensely too. The dinners sell out regularly, and chicken and chips have been added to the menu to provide variety.

“If it wasn’t for the donations we’ve gotten from a lot of people,” says McKelvie, “sometimes ten dollars, sometimes a hundred dollars … every penny counts. We’ll continue as long as we can, right? With Vilma’s donation, that will keep us ahead for a while. I went to tears when I heard she was doing this. That somebody would go to that effort, then donate it to us, that’s amazing. It’s beyond thank you.”

Above, their cookbook cover. Below, Todd Crick and mom Vilma Moretti, in Keith’s kitchen, 2017. SUPPLIED

How did “Keith’s Pies – A Recipe Book” come to be? Vilma Moretti, former owner of the legendary Keith’s Restaurant, in Fonthill, which closed three years ago last weekend, explains it this way.

“I was complaining to Todd”—her son who lives in California—“when I saw what the Legion and Pelham Cares were doing, and I was, ‘Gee, I wish I still had the restaurant, because it would have been so simple for me [to help out by providing meals]. Good son that he is, Todd listened to my complaints and said he’d call back.”

Todd did call back, and he suggested they do a Keith’s restaurant pie cookbook. They would put the project up on GoFundMe, solicit donations, and share the proceeds with the Legion and Pelham Cares. Vilma was originally reluctant to commit her son to so much work.

She says that when Todd had come back from California to assist with the restaurant or visit his ailing brother Tom, he took videos of them working in the kitchen, and had recorded many of the famous pie recipes. Ultimately Todd prevailed and they decided to give it a try.

Carla Strickland, a family friend and schoolmate of Todd’s, used Todd’s notes to format the book.

“Todd put it on a GoFundMe page,” says Vilma, “and within something like four or five hours, we already had $1000.”

“Keith’s Pies – A Recipe Book,” includes several pages of history about Keith’s and their best pie recipes. It is available three ways to those making a donation. For a minimum donation of $5, donors will receive the book in PDF format. Donations of $30 or more will earn a printed and bound copy plus an electronic copy. And for $50 or more, you can have the book signed by authors Vilma and Todd. If you’d like a digital copy and are unable to donate, you can request a free copy on their GoFundMe page. Advertisers are welcome too.

Vilma wants us all to know that Peggy Palmer, “a Fonthill girl born and raised,” who volunteers at the Legion, will also take your order if you prefer not to use the computer or provide online credit card info.

When the Voice initially learned of the project, the book’s GoFundMe total was $6325. After paying a small amount to promote it on the newspaper’s Facebook page, four days later the total surpassed $10,000. As of the moment this article was posted to the Voice website, it was $13,730.

What about distribution?

“I’m a member of the Garden Club,” says Vilma, “and they’ll help out with addressing and envelopes,” illustrating again the strength of Pelham’s volunteer community.

Her favourite recipe? She laughs.

“I can’t. We cooked the pies seven at a time, always what was in season. I knew Jerri Brown down on South Pelham Street pulled rhubarb every morning, so I’d just go down there on the way to work.”

And so the conversation went, history and memories of 65 great years as restaurateur to her beloved Pelham.

What’s the secret to great pie dough? Practice. How did she make her meringue so high? Lots of eggs.

The details are in the book, which she encourages everyone to purchase. If you have a problem though, just give her a call.

Jennifer Dube is Coordinator of Client Services for Pelham Cares. When asked about Vilma and Todd’s proposal to donate the other half of proceeds from “Keith’s Pies” to Pelham Cares, she says, “Vilma did catch us by surprise … to think she’d do this to help us.”

The success of the GoFundMe page did not surprise Dube, who once worked for Vilma at Keith’s.

“It just shows what great respect the community has for the family.”

Dube explains that Vilma’s donations are providing immediate benefits, and will help long-term too. The extra demand for services caused by COVID-19 has changed the way Pelham Cares shops, and the funds received from Vilma and Todd have helped facilitate this.

Daily trips to grocers and suppliers can no longer meet their needs, and Pelham Cares doesn’t want to clear grocers’ shelves, thereby denying local residents of goods, so they are now buying in bulk. This costs more per order, and the larger quantities of food need additional storage space. Donations generated by KIETH’S PIES provide the extra cash for bulk purchases, and will help Pelham Cares acquire an additional freezer or refrigerator for the long term.

Dube says Pelham Cares is seeing an increase in emergency needs, new clients that have been especially hard hit by COVID-related issues.

“I find the community has really pulled together. Little hubs of volunteer support have popped up in our community through the COVID period, which help alleviate some of the pressure off food banks. Their support doing some of our legwork within the community, either delivery services or senior services, has been great, as has the financial support.”

Late last week, Vilma gave cheques in the amount of $2000 each to the Legion and Pelham Cares. Over the weekend, she told the Voice that she plans to donate another $3000 each, bringing the total for each organization to $5000.

“Keith’s Pies – A Recipe Book,” provides a unique way to help the less fortunate in Pelham, and deservedly enriches the lore of Keith’s famous restaurant. Order your copy at https://bit.ly/2YSn2iy