North Bay Ontario Company Gives Back to the Community
by Pat Rediger
Photos courtesy Flat-Rate Towing and Recovery
featured image: The outside of H.O.P.E.’s Kitchen in North Bay, Ontario
Tow truck drivers are known for their desire to help people and get them back on the road, but Kate Valiquette and her husband Chris Brown have taken it one step further.
The owners of Flat-Rate Towing and Recovery in North Bay, Ontario, are known for their generous spirit, which led them to create H.O.P.E.’s Kitchen, a 24-hour drop-in centre in the community of about 50,000.
“I’ve pulled up to scenes where people are just stuck on the side of the road or stuck in the ditch. I pull them out, but they don’t have the money to pay me, and that is ok. Some people just don’t have money,” said Chris. “We like to help people. I think that is what inspired us to start H.O.P.E.’s Kitchen. We saw the issues in our community and wanted to give back.” The idea started more than a year ago, during the early days of the pandemic. As homeless shelters limited their intake due to the coronavirus, the couple was concerned about the impact this would have on those who relied on the shelters. As temperatures reached -20C, they decided to open their garage doors, set up a barbecue, and provide hot meals to those in need.
Right now we’re focusing on counselling and group sessions to try to get more people off the streets.”
“After speaking with people we were serving, we found that there was a need for a place that provided more services like a shelter and bathroom. So we started as a pay-it-forward restaurant, but in September we expanded to an outreach centre because the community needed more help,” said Kate.
They initially considered opening a food truck and permanently parking it in their driveway, but then they noticed a for lease sign on a nearby restaurant and realized there was a better opportunity. They purchased the lease and set up H.O.P.E.’s Home. The facility not only provides people with hot soups, sandwiches, and meals, but also offers a place to go to do activities, relax, build a resume, and try to find work.
“It’s a place to help people get out of the position that they’re in. Whether it is providing phones and online services, getting individuals necessary clothing, blankets, hygiene kits, food, furniture, or even just a warm place to sit. We have also started counselling. Some people have even been able to get off of the streets, which is incredible,” said Kate.
H.O.P.E.’s Kitchen seats between 100 and 150 people a day and is primarily self-funded through donations. Volunteers created a GoFundMe page around Christmas, and the facility is still depending on the funds raised. Kate does not hesitate to buy things out-of-pocket here and there when she sees the need for it. Kate wants H.O.P.E.’s Kitchen to remain non-government funded so she can continue to have the freedom to offer what she feels is necessary for the community.
“Right now we’re focusing on counselling and group sessions to try to get more people off the streets. In the future, I hope to develop some sort of revenue source to work on housing itself. My endgame has always been to develop a tiny house community like transitional housing. So, fingers crossed I win the lottery,” laughed Kate.
Chris and Kate stay very busy running Flat-Rate Towing and H.O.P.E.’s Kitchen. The two do not ever really stop and have dedicated their lives to the amazing work that they do. Both Chris and Kate are living out their passions while helping the town of North Bay in amazing ways.
Chris and Kate started Flat-Rate about four years ago, although Chris has been involved in towing all his life. He took a brief break from towing for a year and a half before realizing he needed to get back into the industry.
“My grandfather owned Brown’s Towing, one of the first towing companies in North Bay, so I was born and raised in the towing world. It has always been my true passion and my reasoning for starting Flat-Rate,” said Chris.
Flat-Rate began as a scrap removal business but when they were having some trouble with a winch, they bought a tow truck and the business exploded from there. Once the town of North Bay got wind of a Brown being back in a tow truck, the phone started ringing.
Some people have even been able to get off of the streets, which
Chris’s grandfather sold his business when he thought Chris was leaving the industry, so after receiving so much attention, Chris decided to expand his into towing. Flat-Rate quickly picked up a CAA contract, site and garage contracts, and police towing and recoveries.
“Right now, we primarily provide light-duty towing, focusing on vehicles, cars, and trucks. Nothing heavy right now, and we do not offer transports or anything like that. I am looking to eventually expand into heavier towing. Once COVID-19 has passed, we will have more opportunity and consistent work to grow the business,” said Chris.
Business has stayed steady despite the pandemic, although an overall lack of travel has impacted services. Last year the business was awarded Hero of the Industry from the Provincial Towing Association of Ontario. Due to COVID-19, some of Chris’s employees have been laid off, and the company currently has two part-time employees as well as Chris’s daughter, who is the dispatcher. “I am excited my daughter has a passion for the industry too. Right now, she does the bookkeeping and dispatching, but she is also in the process of learning how to operate trucks. I’m hoping one day she will feel inspired to take over the family business and keep it going,” said Chris.