Sarah Simpson Column: Big Wheel comes through in a big way for Cowichan hospital workers

Dave Dhaliwal lived in the Cowichan Valley for 50 years

Calen McNeil and the Big Wheel Burger Foundation honour Dave Dhaliwal while handing out meals to 371 hospital workers on April 24. (Darin Lashman photo)

Now this is a story worth taking a big bite out of. What I mean by that is that it’s about food. Tangentially. It’s mostly about a group of wonderful helpers. But food plays a roll, too.

Can you tell I’m hungry? OK, here goes:

Calen McNeil has been supporting front-line workers during the pandemic by doing what he does best: feeding people.

McNeil is the owner of the Big Wheel Burger franchise, which has three stores in Victoria and one in Nanaimo. He also owns Zambris Italian Restaurant in Victoria. After I learned what he’s been up to since COVID-19 took life as we know it away, I’ll be heading down for a burger when this is all over. With cheese. And fries. Extra pickles. (I’m drooling).

Anyhoo, through the Big Wheel Burger Foundation, McNeil and his crew have been travelling between Victoria and Nanaimo to feed hospital staffers.

Though it’s no doubt a massive endeavour and, in my head, seems like somewhat of a logistical nightmare, it’s also a beautifully simple way to support the workers who are putting themselves at risk and disrupting their normal lives to help or otherwise serve the ill. Who doesn’t appreciate a good meal they don’t have to make or clean up after?

I heard that when CDH site director Janet James got the call that McNeil wanted to feed workers at her hospital, she was on board. James thought it was a great idea and great for community support for all the front line workers at CDH.

McNeil’s offer was to feed all staff: from doctors to nurses to housekeepers to technicians to lab workers to security staff and so on. Each staffer got their choice of a meat or vegetarian pasta meal, made at Zambris in Victoria and delivered to the hospital for pick-up — at a safe distance,of course.

The timing was important though. With the goal being to feed as many workers as possible between shift changes, the crew from Big Wheel Burger set up their meal pick-up stations to be available between 3:45 p.m. and 7:30 p.m. on April 24. In doing so, they managed to feed 371 employees as they were either heading in for their shifts or done for the day.

That’s a lot of pasta. I can’t imagine what the bill was.

While the Big Wheel Burger Foundation footed half of the cheque, led by his son Paul, the children of Sukhdev “Dave” Dhaliwal, picked up the other half of the tab.

“It turned out to be a very symbiotic effort,” McNeil explained.

It just so happens that Dave’s son Paul Dhaliwal and McNeil are good friends. In fact, they’re poker buddies and have known each other for 15 years.

The world works in mysterious ways sometimes. Paul had reached out to his restauranteur friend wanting to pledge a donation, given the pandemic, to help support and give thanks to the staff at Cowichan District Hospital, who were working so hard to care for his dad.

Dave Dhaliwal lived in the Cowichan Valley for 50 years and had spent quite a bit of time at the hospital. His children were grateful for the care he received.

Paul said his dad “benefited from the tremendous care provided by the amazing staff,” and wanted to say thank you.

The week the Big Wheel crew were set to go serve at CDH, Paul’s dad died.

“So we did it to honour to him as well,” McNeil said.

One of these days, hopefully soon, I’ll be taking my family to Big Wheel Burger and we’ll be getting some burgers and fries. And who am I kidding, maybe even a milkshake, too. (Or two). This isn’t an ad for Big Wheel Burger. It’s a thank you to them and to the Dhaliwal family. And it’s a thank you to everyone who is working hard to support somebody else. It’s hard to know how to be a helper in this pandemic. Many of us are still figuring it out. I feel like the least I can do is to go support the helpers who, despite all the restrictions and limits in place, are making big impacts.

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