highJinx - Karen & Leigh

highJinx - Karen & Leigh

290 Kent Street Ottawa, ON

Photography  Marianne Rothbauer

Photography Marianne Rothbauer

Tell us a little about yourselves?

After many years working individually in the Social Services field in Ottawa, Karen and I met over our last job posting where we worked together to home the chronically homeless supporting the ‘housing first’ model.

While working the program we found that people needed varying assistance identified by themselves. While we were happy to do the work we did, we felt that it could be done a lot simpler, for a less money and our time could be better used serving the people in which they identified their vulnerabilities. Thus highJinx was born over a brainstorming session.

Right from the beginning, we knew we wouldn’t qualify for government funding and nor did we want it. First reason was because we saw funding cuts all the time and didn’t want to rely on something that one day might not exist for us. Secondly, we saw that  having funders  only created red tape and bureaucracy and that slowed us down when helping people.

highJinx is a little shop that sells antiques, vintage and retro pieces and uses our net profits to help the vulnerable in the community. A safe house for neighbours to get the assistance they request.


You look at everyone as ‘neighbours’, so do we! How long has highjinx been helping people and providing a place to go for the community?

We were unhappy calling folks “clients” when they were truly our Neighbours and therefore I spied the social services community to shift their language and identity those that they help with something more respectful. It’s awesome to have seen this happen over the years! highJinx has been in the community for just a little over 7 years. We opened March 15, 2011.


You sell antiques as well. How does that fit into everything you are doing at the store?

Selling antique and vintage pieces has allowed us to continue to do the work we do. We don’t accept any government funding as we’d rather not be constrained by the mandates of the funders and choose to help people they say they want to be helped. Karen and I both had an interest in vintage and antique pieces ourselves, so we thought they would be a good vehicle to allow us to do the work we do. We are able to provide the community house and help those in the community by selling our wares.


At the back of the store you have an area that provides donated goods for people in need, where do these goods come from?

The food and toiletry items are donated by members of the community. We are not registered with the Ottawa Food Bank, so we rely on the generosity of neighbours helping neighbours.

We have some local restaurants, church groups, services groups who all have a hand in helping feed our neighbours.


What are the most needed items for the people in the community?

When moving from the shelter, off the streets or newly immigrating to Canada purchasing household items can be expensive, so we have furniture bank where neighbours can access items they need. For this reason we are always in need of small appliances, ie. coffee makers, kettles, microwaves, etc… Bedding, pillows and towels are always highly sought after as well. We basically have demand for any household items from practical items to decor items.

Food seems to play an integral  role in the work we do for many reasons,  so we are always in need for perishable and non perishable goods.

In your kitchen you serve hot meals for community members in need. How many meals do you serve each day?

This can vary from day to day, anywhere in the range of 15 to 30 people especially on a Friday when we do a guaranteed meal. We also have a community fridge and freezer that allows us to distribute frozen meals to those in need in any given day and of course access to the food pantry. Since highJinx is an emergency pantry we ask that neighbours only take what they need for the day, and they can return everyday, but we share daily to ensure everyone gets something whether the foodstock is abundant or scarce.

highjinx sounds like a lot fun, helping neighbours and connecting with your community! But when you aren’t there what do you for leisure?

Often we describe our “work” as a lifestyle instead of a job and truly feel grateful for that. When not in work mode, Karen and I both enjoy spending time with friends and family. We have a great support network and have fostered some great relationships through highjinx.

We also like to attend some of the festivals Ottawa hosts when possible.

When not spending time out in the community, you can usually find us tending to our own gardens as both enjoy being outdoors.


How has Ottawa and the community supported highjinx?

Ottawa and the community has rallied behind highJinx and supported us more than we could have even hoped for in the beginning. Neighbours, community members, local businesses have supported us through their donations to our initiative, whether it be pieces to sell in the shop or items to put in our furniture bank for our neighbours.

They continually support our food program by donating food items and or cooking/prepping meals to distribute to our neighbours.

Shopping at highJinx supports us and allows us to keep doing what we’re doing. Without the generosity of the community we wouldn’t be able to do what we do.

Are there any businesses in Ottawa that partner/ helped with highjinx?

highJinx does not formally partner with any one organization, instead we work with any and all organizations, community groups, churches, restaurants and have done so throughout the years. We are open to working with any group to help foster a thriving, healthy and all encompassing community that doesn’t discriminate against those of an lower socioeconomic background.

If you could send one message out to the people of Ottawa to try and make a difference what would you say?

We would like to say ‘help your neighbours’ get to know who they are and what they need to encourage a healthy thriving community where neighbours truly are helping neighbours. It really is that easy.

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