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'Sign Wars' inspires two Sault businesses to provide food, funds to charity

Soo Mill, Fratelli’s get the ball rolling, ask other businesses to come on board

While details are still in the planning stage, Soo Mill and Fratelli’s Kitchen want to build on the Sault’s friendly ‘sign war’ between local businesses to do good work for not-for-profit groups and those in need.

The good-natured sign exchange began Wednesday with Coch’s Corner and SooToday, spreading like wildfire to numerous Sault businesses.

Fratelli’s posted a sign declaring ‘Hey Soo Mill, Will Trade Pizza For Lumber.’

Soo Mill responded by delivering lumber to Fratelli’s with a sign of its own, stating ‘We Delivered The Wood, Where’s The Dough?’

“They contacted us, they said they loved it, and they wanted to do something for the community,” said Tony Cavaliere, Fratelli’s manager.

“Joel (Rowswell, Soo Mill president) thought it would be a good opportunity to do some kind of donation (to charity),” building on the momentum of the signs.

“We’re using the (COVID-19 lockdown) down time to do renovations,” said Cavaliere of the lumber received from Soo Mill.

In return for the wood, Fratelli’s delivered pizza to Soo Mill staff.

It was proposed Fratelli’s would donate hot meals such as pasta dishes and pizza to not-for-profits such as ARCH, St. Vincent Place and Women In Crisis (Algoma).

For its part, Soo Mill would donate funds, and in some cases lumber for house and home charities such as Habitat for Humanity.

Non-perishable food items, Cavaliere said, could be dropped off to Soo Mill and transported to the Sault Ste. Marie Soup Kitchen Community Centre.

“Now we’re starting to get contacted by other businesses wanting to join in,” Cavaliere said, adding it feels good to help. 

“We thought it would actually be funny to put some lumber in their (Fratelli’s) yard and we had signs made up. We went back and forth a couple of times...one of the things Soo Mill is well known for in the community is giving back. We obviously want to support local charities and the community in any which way,” said Joel Rowswell, Soo Mill president.

“Typically during the summer, starting in May, we do our charity barbecues and obviously in the last two years we haven’t been able to do that. We basically provide everything for the barbecues, so the charities just cook it themselves and they can do what they want, they keep the funds they raise. Seeing that we couldn’t do that this year we’re trying to come up with some creative ways to somehow give back to the community.”

“We met with Fratelli’s and pitched the idea of giving back to the community (together),” Rowswell said, the proposal being the eatery donating food to the Soup Kitchen and Harvest Algoma for a start (as well as other charities), with Soo Mill donating funds to various charities that would typically participate in Soo Mill’s barbecues.

“We’re still in the process of finalizing how we’re going to go about allocating funds to these charities, and we’re trying to get other businesses on board, to see if there are any other businesses willing to join this donation cause we’ve worked on together.”

Rowswell said Soo Mill would potentially “match or double” the dollar value of quantities of food Fratelli's would give to the community.

“Normally every year we donate to the YMCA or Habitat for Humanity, the United Way, the hospital foundation and some of the smaller charities.”

“The story’s ‘building.’ It’s not done yet. It’s in the works. We thought it would be a good time for this. With everything going on there’s definitely a lot of people in need.”

Of Fratelli’s delivering pizza to Soo Mill staff, Rowswell said, with appreciation, “it was a surprise. The staff really appreciate things like that right now. Being shut down, and all the different protocols and procedures you’ve got to follow, it puts a lot of stress on your staff.”

Meanwhile, as contractors and homeowners wanting to perform ‘do it yourself’ renovations know, the pandemic has delayed shipments of lumber to merchants and driven lumber prices up.

“There are a lot of factors that have played into what’s going on. Initially, when it started last year, I don’t think people realized the impact it would have on the entire industry, but yes, we have lumber, but some things we can’t get so we take it as we get it. The prices are still going up,” Rowswell said.

The problem is nationwide.

“A lot of the forestry sector was hit hard. When you’re told to shut down, you have to shut down. You can’t find workers and that creates a backlog. Once things start to open back up again, you just get going and you’re told to shut down again. It just compounds. We’re in our third shutdown in Ontario and other provinces are the same, depending on where you get your lumber from, Quebec or out west. It’s not just us. It’s across the whole industry,” Rowswell said.

“It’s not just spruce lumber. It’s engineered wood products. Anything with resins, so it’s affecting paint, windows, doors are all made out of resins, and then, waiting times to get things in is twice as bad as it used to be. So, four weeks is now eight to 12, depending on the manufacturer.”

While not unsympathetic to buyers, Rowsell said “a sheet of wood, house sheeting, was $15 and it’s up to $50 now. People are still buying it. I don’t know. I guess people have been hanging on to their money and waiting (to buy wood). The demand in the Sault right now is pretty good. I think we’re one of the fortunate companies in town right now.”

“That’s part of the reason why we thought a charity angle would be good, because a lot of people are struggling,” Rowswell said.


Darren Taylor

About the Author: Darren Taylor

Darren Taylor is a news reporter and photographer in Sault Ste Marie. He regularly covers community events, political announcements and numerous board meetings. With a background in broadcast journalism, Darren has worked in the media since 1996.
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