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Filling stomachs, raising spirits

Hungry customers streamed in bearing gifts of canned meats, pasta, soups and cereal as they came to pay a visit to Umé Foods for the Light up the Lot event. 

Partnering with Kelowna Community Food bank, the bright-coloured Japanese food shop -- which narrowly escaped the fire that ravaged Burtch Plaza last month -- collected food and cash donations in exchange for store discounts made to help struggling families fill stomachs and raise spirits. 

"Growing up in a restaurant as a kid, a lot of my fondest memories involved food," Ume cook and manager Dean Uechi said. 
"I wouldn't be where I am today if I had a different experience with food growing up. It would be great if even one kid was able to have a good experience through the food that our generous customers brought for Light up the Lot."
Working with Kelowna Community food bank development officer David Purdon, Uechi and staff spread the word through social media. The event not only brought in donations for the food bank, but also much-needed foot traffic to Burtch Plaza, which had been ghostly quiet for weeks after the big fire. 
"Since we lost our neighbours, it was just so dark and lonely in the parking lot," he recalled, noting that he missed the faces who used to come by the store to chat and eat.
Fears that no one would show up were quickly dispelled as he saw customers new and old arriving with bags of food in hand, ready to help fellow Kelownians.
"My worries disappeared after I heard all the talking and laughing while I was cooking in the kitchen," he said. 
"[It was] super fun and [I'm] glad I did it."

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