A group of volunteers has been providing meals to frontline workers and live music for long-term care home residents. Stella Acquisto with their efforts to bring joy to some of those hit hardest by the COVID-19 pandemic.
Vaughan Together For Long-Term Care, l’iniziativa italo-canadese che porta cibo, musica e intrattenimento nelle case di riposo per gli anziani alle porte di Toronto.
Jason Polsinelli and Romina Monaco have been friends for more than a decade. A few weeks ago they decided to work together to ease the strain on personal support workers in long-term care facilities and co-founded, Vaughan Together for Long-Term Care. Susan Hay has the story.
In response to the COVID-19 crisis, community members Romina Monaco and Jason Polsinellli created and launched Vaughan Together for Long Term Care, an initiative supporting frontline staff and residents by way of prepared meals and musical performances. Launched April 24, a total of 7500 meals donated by local businesses, restaurants and food companies were delivered to Villa Leonardo Gambin, Villa Colombo Vaughan, Mariann Home and St. Bernard’s Residence. This vital initiative was topped off with 374 care packages for the heroes who bravely dedicated themselves to welfare of seniors.
1. Jason Polsinelli (Co-Founder, Vaughan Together), Romina Monaco (Co-Founder, Vaughan Together), Tony Monaco (Z103.5) and musician Carlo Coppola 2. Frontline heroes of Villa Leonardo Gambin 3. Sponsors, Ice Cream Patio 4. Donors Goffredo and Carmela Vittulo (Mosaik Homes) with staff of Nove Ristorante at Richview Manor 5. Romina Monaco, sponsor Piero Carbone (Garden Foods) and Tony Monaco 6. Vaughan Together team with frontline heroes of Villa Colombo Vaughan
Do you guys feel proud of me?” 10-year-old Roberta Battaglia asks sweetly as she turns to hear her parents’ answer. “We are very proud of you!” mom Gabriella chimes in without hesitation. “I was so happy for you because I was seeing your dream come true. It’s what you’ve wanted and spoke about since you were a little girl.”
Roberta became the talk of the town earlier this year when she wowed the America’s Got Talent judgeswithherpowerfulrendition of Lady Gaga and Bradley Cooper’s “Shallow” – a performance that prompted Sofía Vergara to press the Golden Buzzer, fast-tracking Roberta to the show’s semi-finals, expected to unfold in August. It was a moment that Roberta later told the judges was a dream come true. “She was perfect,” adds her father, Alessandro, a fellow musician who sings and plays instruments such as the piano and saxophone. “I’m so happy for Roberta. She sang amazing.”
The Toronto native has shown her musical flair since she was a toddler. She made her first public performance at age three when she picked up a microphone dur- ing one of her dad’s gigs and began singing with him onstage.
In just two months, Jason Polsinelli, Senior Wealth Advisor, Portfolio Manager and Associate Director with Scotia Wealth Management and his grassroots VTLTC initiative have provided a staggering 7,000 meals to frontline heroes.
In the late winter of 2020, the COVID-19 pandemic struck the world with such uncontrollable force that life as everyone knew it changed almost overnight. One of the most affected by this global crisis were the vulnerable and elderly residing in long-term care facilities, who found themselves in a desperate situation requiring an emergency response from Canadians far and wide. Rising to the challenge in the city of Vaughan, Ont., was Jason Polsinelli, Senior Wealth Advisor, Portfolio Manager and Associate Director with Scotia Wealth Management, and his grassroots Vaughan Together For Long-Term Care initiative. The mission of this impromptu project, launched April 24, is to provide relief in the form of food donations, and within a two- month period a staggering 7,000 meals were served to front-line heroes at five facilities: Villa Colombo Vaughan, The Mariann Home, Villa Leonardo Gambin, St. Bernard’s Residence and Richview Manor.
“I couldn’t stand back. I watched the stories unfold in the beginning and saw our most vulnerable get hit with this crisis. My father is in a long-term care facility with dementia, so the story really hit home for me, and I decided to do something,” says Polsinelli, who took the bull by the horns and immediately reached out to long-time friend and fellow community advocate, Romina Monaco. Joining forces, they created this vital and necessary initiative to support the city’s seniors and their long- term health-care providers. “I wanted to assist the heroes who are actually helping our most vulnerable. Providing food and other things to these front-line champions who fight this battle every day within the residences was the best gesture I thought we could do to help,” he explains.
Spiking staff shortages along with the isolation of seniors caused distress not only within the long-term care system, but also for families who are separated from their loved ones. Tragic news headlines and a sense of solidarity had Vaughan Together co-founders answering daily calls from friends and businesses, asking how they could assist in order to ease the strain. “It’s a great initiative that just snowballed with a whole bunch of people and businesses from the community coming together and helping,” explains Polsinelli.
Partnering with food companies and local restaurants, Vaughan Together delivered prepared meals to front-line staff working overtime in extremely stressful conditions. “They were absolutely exhausted,” says Monaco. “Offering ready-made meals lightened the load, and they were able to forge on and care for our seniors. We could just see their stress lifting when we arrived, especially on the days we had music,” she adds, referring to Vaughan Together’s outdoor performances showcasing celebrated Toronto musicians Carlo Coppola, Claudio Santaluce and Marco Stornelli. “Staff would come outside to dance, while residents who had been confined to their rooms for almost two months were out on their balconies or enjoying the music by their windows. We wanted them to know they weren’t alone in this, and it was amazing to see their spirits rise through the power of music.”
Polsinelli says Vaughan Together owes a tremendous amount to the food donors who, despite the critical challenges facing their industry due to COVID-19, stepped up to the plate to give time and resources with some cooking on- location at the facilities. Generous partners include: Classic Group, Ice Cream Patio, Pizza Nova, Hero Certified Burgers, Cataldi Fresh Market, Shoeless Joe’s Sports Grill, Cristina’s Tortina Shop, Tutto Gourmet Foods, Pasta It Forward, Di Manno Bakery, Ida Vivacqua Realtor and noted chefs Gianni Ceschia and Luciano Schipano.
In addition to regular meal deliveries, one of the facilities benefiting from the magical live shows is Villa Leonardo Gambin (VLG). “At the height of their loneliness and isolation, many residents of VLG were brought to tears by the uplifting parking-lot concerts that Romina and Jason arranged, featuring music reminiscent of better days,” states the facility’s board chair, Andrew Iacobelli. “We are incredibly grateful to Vaughan Together for recognizing the devastating effects of COVID-19 on long-term care
and rallying the community to step up and support those most directly affected by this awful virus.” Echoing this emotion is Magdalena Di Maria, general manager of Richview Manor. “This has all been very special and important to our residents and staff,” says Di Maria. “We have to remember that many of them have been practically taken away from their families. Working long hours and not being able to see their loved one has been very difficult.” Special thank you to our other donors, Mosaik Homes, Z103.5, Goffredo and Robert Vitullo and Lesley Scott, your support was immensely appreciated.
To give is greater than to receive, and the inspiring, philanthropic and dedicated co-founders of Vaughan Together mirror this age-old proverbial expression. “I have been blessed with all the opportunity that Vaughan, its businesses and residents have given me over the years,” says Polsinelli. “Giving back from a grassroots level is a big part of city and community building, and I am proud, in a small way, to be a part of that.”
Look out, Celine! There’s another Canadian singing sen- sation on the horizon. And she’s only 10!
With a performance of the Lady Gaga and Bradley Cooper hit “Shallow,” Roberta Battaglia, from Brampton, Ont., brought down the house on TV’s America’s Got Talent and won over the judges, too. Thanks to Sofía Vergara (right, 2nd R), Roberta received the “Golden Buzzer,” fast-forwarding her to the finals, which are expected to take place in August.
“I’m really overwhelmed with excitement because of everything that’s happening right now,” Roberta told Hello! Canada on the heels of her performance. “This means the world to me.”
It means a lot to her parents, too, who have sup- ported her passion for years. “All this began when I took her to see her [musician] father, Alessandro, play in restaurants,” says her mom, Gabriella, reflect- ing on Roberta’s journey. “She would walk over to him, pick the microphone off the floor and just start singing. We were shocked because she was only three at the time.”
Since then, Roberta has worked on her craft, playing galas, festivals and appearing on TV. Now, with a chance at becoming the reality show’s youngest-ever winner of its million-dollar prize, it seems the sky is the limit.
“We just want her to be happy,” says Gabriella. “Whatever she decides to do in the future, we’ll support her.”
Following a momentous win at the 2019 Business Achievement Awards presented by the Vaughan Chamber of Commerce, business partners Helen Brandao and Sandra Senatore of Brando’s Clothing sit with snapd Vaughan to discuss their unprecedented success in the women’s fashion retail market. From its launch in 1985 as a small jean store in the once remote area of Market Lane, Woodbridge to surviving several de- bilitating economic hardships, not only has Brando’s Clothing endured and surpassed the test of time but it has also thrived. Since opening its doors the store has become a household name in Vaughan, doubling its retail space to house a total of fty fash- ion lines which include everything from stilettos and evening gowns to ip- ops and casual wear. “We’ve survived three recessions where half of Market Lane was empty. We made it through with the loyalty of our customers,” explains Brandao who started the business with her husband, Tony Brandao. “At rst I thought they were crazy. I would have to pass cows before I got here,” laughs Senatore, who was an employee until 1987 when she was offered a partnership in the business. With a nine year age difference between the co-owners it is no wonder that the relationship is founded on mentorship.
“I’ve been in business thirty-four years and fty years in retail and had a passion for business since I was a young girl playing cashier,” says Brandao who has taken the role of business administrator while Senatore’s expertise is in customer service as well as community development. “Sandra was a young girl when I hired her and although I trained her, I learned a lot from her too,” adding that her partner has become like a daughter, having taught Brandao patience and to enjoy life while living in the mo- ment. As for Senatore, “Helen has been my teacher and learning from her is what has driven me. The partnership has opened my eyes to opportunities where I’ve been able to meet wonderful people and pursue my vision.” Although Senatore thrives on connecting with organizations and venturing into community, her greatest passion is working with a blank canvas. “I get excited when someone says to me ‘I don’t know what to wear,’” she admits. “Especially when I see someone who is not quite put to- gether because I know underneath there is a ower. I want to help them and not just in regards to their clothing but also their hair, makeup and the overall look.” The fact that Brando’s Clothing is the last remaining original store in Market Lane is not based on luck and according to the partners the vested interest and thoughtfulness taken to customer’s needs has been a key element to its success. “Many stores have gone and many new stores have come into Vaughan but I’m not afraid of competition. We have our own vision and a great loyalty from those who have shopped here since the beginning. We want to make them happy and buy with them in mind,” says Senatore.
In addition to offering above par customer service including trendy and elegant, qual- ity merchandise at affordable prices, the business also places value on philanthropy. As a cornerstone of the Woodbridge community and having grown simultaneously with the city of Vaughan, Brando’s Clothing supports numerous local causes such as Waves of Changes for Autism, Joey Conte Foundation, Nanny Angel Network and many more. Today the store enters a new chapter with its swanky renovations, sourc- ing of new lines, a popular social media platform and additional projects to come and with more mountains to climb, Brandao says it best, “Winning the Vaughan Business Achievement Award means the world to us and an honour to be recognized by our peers. Yes, it’s a great pat on the back but it inspires us to work even harder.’
Buying a property can be a daunting task for anyone. Not only is the process complicated, the financial aspect can also prove to be overwhelming and intimidating – especially if you’re a first-time home buyer. Shopping around for a mortgage is one of the more tedious prerequisites so it’s reassuring to know that there are community-oriented, responsible individuals like Frank and Anthony Di Nardo, who are willing to go that extra mile to ensure you get the best deal possible.
Although Di Nardo Financial Inc. is new to the Vaughan landscape, having just recently opened its doors in Maple, those behind its operation are seasoned professionals. Owned and operated by siblings, Frank and Anthony, the mortgage brokerage firm includes a trusted team of agents with over twenty-five years of combined knowledge and experience.
“We are not reinventing the wheel. What distinguishes us is the quality service we provide. Our goal is to build trust with our clients and guarantee they get the best deal possible. We want everyone to feel satisfied and confident with the decisions they’ve made regarding their mortgage agreement” says Frank, the elder of the duo.
It was not a coincidence that while growing up both brothers exhibited a mutual interest in finance. Rather, this passion was passed down by their father. Gino Di Nardo’s long career as a bank branch manager, including his early years spent as a mortgage broker, had a profound effect on his children.
“He has always been a mentor to us” explains Frank. “Before we were even licensed and practicing as agents our father had exposed us to the world of finance. Regardless of the education we received, the most important lessons we learned were from him. He faced every possible scenario and what I admire about him was how quickly he came to find solutions for people” he adds, leaning back in the chair of his contemporary-style office. Beside him as an old Remington typewriter from 1908 he says he picked up at an antique shop – a sentimental item for a young, diligent business man.
Frank, who holds the broker title at Di Nardo Financial, is a graduate from the University of Toronto with a double major in finance and economics. After receiving his mortgage training from Seneca College, he was employed as a mortgage agent at Invis, the renowned national mortgage brokerage firm. He returned to Seneca several years later, choosing to further his education and attain his broker licence. Following in Frank’s footsteps shortly thereafter was his brother Anthony, who now practices as an agent.
Unlike the days of yore, many of today’s buyers are opting to go with the services of a mortgage agent who will negotiate with lenders their behalf. However, there are still those who fear dealing with any institution other than a bank. In accordance to the Mortgage Brokerages, Lenders and Administrators Act of Ontario all professionals must be licensed and comply with the strict guidelines and regulations administered by the Financial Services Commission of Ontario (FSCO). Not only does Di Nardo Financial meet these requirements, it is also a member of the Independent Mortgage Broker Association of Ontario (IMBA) and the Canadian Association of Accredited Mortgage Professionals (CAAMP) – organizations entrusted in maintaining the integrity of the industry.
Trying to understand the advantages of dealing with a brokerage over a banking institution can be a challenge, especially for those who are not mortgage savvy.
“We offer better overall service and we’re more flexible” explains Frank. As the middlemen responsible for bringing lending institutions and borrowers together brokers have access to more lenders than banks do. Furthermore, their agents basically hold your hand through the whole process, even following up after the sale to continue their commitment.
“We deal with a great number of credible lenders so we are able to bring a wider variety of offers to the table. We also cover every aspect of the mortgage agreement from assessing your credit situation, determining what you can truly afford and finally presenting a wide array of options. A bank has more defined boundaries and is more restricted because it usually draws from one lending institution. It’s difficult to get the best deal in these circumstances and with the new legislation that’s been implemented the banks don’t take on much risk” say the Di Nardos.
Many times brokers will find a lender who will make loans that a bank refuses – an example being bad credit. Also, loans for commercial properties might be easier to procure through a broker. One misconception is that brokerages charge clients for their services. Not so, according to Di Nardo Financial. Mortgage brokers are paid their fee by the lender. Only in rare circumstances is a fee warranted.
“There are a lot of feel goodstories that come out of here” says Frank. “I get so involved sometimes because I really want to help people get what they want. Some might say it adds a more human element but for me it’s just a natural part of what I do”he adds. As husbands and fathers themselves, the Di Nardos understand that there’s a fine line between business and community responsibility.
As for what’s in store for Di Nardo Financial’s future, Frank and Anthony give some insight.
“Besides continuing our commitment to serve the Vaughan community, we would like Di Nardo Financial to be accessible throughout the Greater Toronto Area. Large offices with a huge staff definitely don’t interest us. Credible, experienced and smaller teams offering outstanding quality is what is most important. ”
Celebrity Chef, Massimo Capra, reminds me of my childhood where Sunday dinners included nostalgic tales of my parent’s early lives in northern Italy – stories told over a golden, piping-hot plate of Risotto alla Milanese. As I sit next to the chef at his critically acclaimed Toronto restaurant, Mistura, he vividly describes the Bolognese tradition of making Lasagna with Bechamel Sauce. My senses are so heightened that I can almost taste the creamy layers of this northern delicacy.
The successful restaurateur and co-host of the Food Network’s Restaurant Make-0verand Gourmet Escapes landed on Canadian soil from his native Italy thirty years ago only to find a country relatively oblivious to the enormity of authentic Italian cuisine.
‘I arrived from Cremona, an area near Milan, in 1982. Most Italians here were southerners who immigrated in the forties and fifties. The culture had already blended Canadian customs in their cooking’,he says, adding ‘my northern background was so completely different’.
Before Chef Capra’s arrival Torontonians had a century-old, stereotypical perception of Italian food – generous portions of pasta with rich tomato sauce, hearty calzones and assorted pizzas. Since then, he along with other noted master chefs, have expanded the Italian cooking repertoire by introducing northern staples such as Polenta alla Griglia (grilled cornmeal), Agnolloti al Cinghiale(pasta with wild boar) and Parma Prosciutto(dry-cured ham).
‘It was very tough to get proper ethnic products back then. But we are lucky to live in Toronto with all the different ethnicities. You can have anything you want now.’ he explains. Chef Capra is an avid admirer of other cuisines. His series, Gourmet Escapes, has taken him to places such as Ireland, Iceland and Holland. However, television celebrity is not his only claim to fame. He is also author of his own cookbook, One Pot Italian.
As I listen to this lively and animated Italian reminisce of his mother’s bygone culinary influence, his days studying his craft in Tuscany as well as his early years employed at several prestigious hotels in Venice, Milan, the Dolomites and Mont Blanc de Courmayeur, I am aware of his passion for tradition and culture.
‘Cuisine is an evolution of the past. It is who we are. Italy is not a place where everyone eats spaghetti with meatballs. Italian cuisine is not just three things that you see on a menu. It’s so much more’, he states.
His restaurants, Mistura, Sopra Upper Lounge (above Mistura), Rainbow Room at the Crowne Plaza Hotel in Niagara Falls as well as Boccone Pronto/Boccone Trattoria at Pearson International Airport – where his is owner, executive chef and creator of all menus- are a testament to his all-encompassing Italian culinary vision.
So what’s next for the tireless chef? “More shows and eventually more restaurants”, he says jovially.
This summer he is off to Italy, travelling throughout the boot exploring small villages and town festivals for ancient recipes and culinary traditions to be aired on an exciting new season of Gourmet Escapes. Stay tuned!
For more on Massimo Capra visit www.massimocapra.com