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Mustard Seed eyes extreme makeover

Paul Latour, founder of Hero Work, stands outside the Mustard Seed. - Danielle Pope
Paul Latour, founder of Hero Work, stands outside the Mustard Seed.
— image credit: Danielle Pope

Hero Work calls on community to help

For 18 years, Queens Avenue has played host to the Mustard Seed food bank — a site that serves over 7,000 clients a month. Offering everything from food to counselling, move-in supplies to spirituality, the Mustard Seed clings to its worn floors, scuffed walls and tattered 1970s atmosphere.

Thanks to an exuberant group of community members, however, that site is now looking at an extreme makeover that could paint a few years off the organization’s heroic efforts — if Victorians volunteer to help.

Hero Work: Community-Based Extreme Makeovers hopes to inspire the community to rally together and give worthy non-profits extreme revamps to make their endeavours a little easier.

“I always wanted to make a difference and teach people something, I just never knew I had something to teach,” says Paul Latour, founder of Hero Work. “I never anticipated this would be my path, but I am here to muster the resources and make it happen.”

Modeled not far from the reality TV hit Extreme Makeover: Home Edition, Latour’s project is part community action, part design documentary. With a dream, a plan and no start-up money to speak of, Latour and his “Extreme Team” are aiming to fund the entire project through inspiring local companies to volunteer their efforts — and supplies — to makeover the Mustard Seed. Oh, and in one week’s time.

“Part of the draw of a project like this is that people can see radical differences in such a short period of time,” says Latour. “There’s something very satisfying in that. Eventually, I hope this will become a platform for towns across Canada to do the same for non-profits all over the country.”

While the goal might sound a little unattainable outside of Hollywood, Latour has already proven his abilities. This will be the third and biggest project for the man whose day job is as a waiter at the Oak Bay Marina Restaurant. The first project was a $25,000 landscaping endeavour he organized for a friend with multiple sclerosis in 1999 — in one day, 27 businesses, 75 volunteers, 10 rotating musical acts and five professional videographers came out to turn Helle Kallas’ overgrown garden into an oasis. The second was a 2011 weekend-long renovation for the Casa Maria Emergency Housing Society in Fernwood, which saw 96 businesses, 250 volunteers, 15 musical acts and even massage therapists and body workers turn out for the $100,000 project.

Now with more resources than ever before, he hopes to turn the Mustard Seed project into a collective endeavour.

“When I first started this, I just wanted my friend to be able to walk around her garden again,” says Latour. “She would ask for help and I’d go over for, like, four hours and I’d have blisters on my hands and my back would be killing me and I still wouldn’t see any real difference. I thought, if I could just get 20 friends and a few pizzas together, we could really do something — but then this just exploded from there.”

While it’s a step up from the Mustard Seed of 35 years ago that was operating out of a prayer closet tucked away on Government Street, the current building is in desperate need of updating to address its ever-expanding clientele.

Plans for the estimated $300,000 renovation will include new floors, walls, lighting and appliances (such as a commercial fridge and dishwasher) as well as restructuring part of the building to improve storage and workflow, bringing parts of the building up to code, adding glass dividers in reception for client confidentiality, and improving the overall esthetic of the site. Representatives from the Mustard Seed say the organization is “very excited” about the renovations and the upcoming assistance.

“There is this magic that happens when we come together to help each other out, and people really want to be part of that,” says Latour. “What amazed me about the previous projects was that 90 per cent of the businesses and people I asked to contribute said ‘Yes.’” M

To watch videos about the Mustard Seed campaign and Hero Work, visit herowork.com.

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