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Thursday, March 23, 2023
NOTL couple spearheads second pandemic food drive



Just three months after Niagara-on-the-Lake residents Syme Jago and Adrian Goldberg and a few friends raised thousands of dollars and hundreds of pounds of food for Newark Neighbours, the pair are planning to do it again, but bigger and smarter.

By Sept. 23, Jago and Goldberg are hoping to gather a team of residents and businesses who will use their networks to find food and money to support the well-known, hard-working charity, ensuring food security in the local community.

They want to call the day: Newark Neighbours Day.

The spark for their original food drive in June came during a regular early pandemic Zoom call with friends. One of the group spoke glowingly about Newark Neighbours and the increasing need for their services. 

The conversation sent Jago’s creative juices into overdrive.

“Well, let’s just do something about it,” she remembers saying. “I asked three other couples to help make our first food drive happen. No one hesitated to jump in.”

It took just 11 days to get the word out and complete the collection. “We had donations from 65 homes. We raised $3,500 and hundreds of pounds of food.”

Jago, 67, describes the effort as something akin to the old Faberge television commercial: “Tell two friends, who tell two friends, who tell two friends. It just grew.”

It was when the four couples were delivering the donations, that they were told their efforts would keep the shelves stocked for many weeks. But the charity expected the need to grow in the future as government pandemic support programs end. And what’s more, most of the donors said they would happily participate again.

Jago’s light went on again.

Those who know Jago, know the light goes on often, bringing determination and drive to both her personal and professional life.

She grew up in Toronto, a child actor from the age of three and a child star by the age of nine, playing Gabby on CBC’s "The Forest Rangers" and in other television and film productions including Disney’s "The Incredible Journey."

“Mom was a ballerina and had a dancing school in Toronto. She had a friend who was a casting director who needed a little girl who can speak well …" and could she bring Syme in? 

“There were no children doing it. So, I just kept going. I grew up at the CBC studios on Jarvis Street. That was home.”

So, it was natural, after high school, for Jago to seek further education for a career in the theatre. But she no longer wanted to be an actor.

“As a teenager, I decided it was too cutthroat to be in front of the camera, so I said, 'I’m going to go to school to learn the technical side.' ”

She attended Ryerson’s Theatre Technical faculty, graduating in the program’s first class.

Fast-forward through almost 20 years of increasingly challenging theatre and event production, Jago is hired as the head of production for the soon-to-open SkyDome (now Rogers Centre.)

In her new role, she needed someone to be her head of lighting for the opening ceremonies in 1989. She hired a young(er) Goldberg, who had recently hung out his shingle in the specialty world of studio, event and production lighting.

Although it would be another 10 years before the couple would graduate from professional to life partners, they were almost immediately presented with a partnership opportunity with the company that had provided the spectacular pyrotechnics for the SkyDome opening ceremonies. 

The new company formed the foundation for Jago’s remaining professional career.

Goldberg, 69, had emigrated from his home northwest of London, England, in 1970, not yet quite 20 years of age. His parents operated a car hire firm, what we would call a limousine or chauffeur service.

The young man arrived in Canada as a recently minted certified financial analyst. 

Working in Toronto, he was constantly drawn to the theatre. And drifted into production lighting quite by chance.

“My love at the time was theatre,” Goldberg remembers. “I got into amateur theatre. One day the lighting guy didn’t show up. Everyone pointed at me."

“It really piqued my interest. I was asked to become the lighting director at a new community theatre. I spent quite a bit of time going to anybody and everybody who would talk to me about lighting. The rest is history.” 

Over his 40-plus-year career, Goldberg earned a reputation as one of the few lighting people in Canada who has covered all the lighting bases, through theatre, television, film and live production. His professional resume records over 400 project credits in Canada, the United States, Europe, South America, Asia, Australia and the Middle East.

He has travelled the world lighting the Billy Graham Crusade, built the iconic TORONTO sign at Nathan Phillips Square and will spent the next decade consulting on the complicated lighting requirements for the resurrection of the Centre Bloc of Canada’s Parliament Buildings in Ottawa.

After marrying in 2000, the pair have often spent long periods of time on the opposite ends of the world.

Jago travelled for her pyrotechnic business, creating spectacular displays for the Rolling Stones, Disney’s Epcot Centre and the Hong Kong harbour. Her last gig before retiring in 2015 was creating and managing the daily fireworks displays for the Toronto PanAm Games.

Goldberg was everywhere else, it seemed, making sure the world’s broadcast services had access to the best lighting money could buy.

In 2002, the couple purchased a small cottage along Lakeshore Road in Niagara-on-the-Lake, just west of Konzelmann Estate Winery. It was a refuge, a quiet weekend haven from their frenetic working life.

“From the mid-'90s, we had come through here for brief stops, usually dining,” said Goldberg. “It was a treat for us. It had an incredible vibe.”

They moved here permanently in 2009, using it as an efficient base for travelling for their respective businesses.

Goldberg’s professional life carries on apace. Jago has chosen her retirement activities carefully.

She has taken a job right next to her home at the Grimo Nut Nursery. She acts as the bookkeeper and office person.

“I have the best retirement job ever,” she exclaims. “I help grow nuts. It is wonderful to learn something completely different.”

Jago is also an avid gardener and active member and supporter of St. Mark’s Anglican Church, having served on the parish council. She and Goldberg volunteer to produce the church’s regular Sunday YouTube services for the church during the pandemic.

But right now, Newark Neighbours Day, is capturing almost all their attention.

“We’re starting again with the four couples and trying to build a network of people who will work with their own 'Rolodex' to motivate, activate and collect food and money in support of Newark Neighbours.” A less grey-haired crowd would probably use the term contact list or Facebook friends …

“We want to keep it basic. Not a lot of structure to the campaign. In our June effort, we learned that people really want to do this. We just need to declare it and nurture the idea.”

“Please, please, please if you can help in any way, email me at sjfooddrive@gmail.com and we can get things moving. We need people to motivate others in our community and people to collect donations on Newark Neighbours Day, lots to do.”

With Goldberg and Jago’s drive, and a dedicated team to help them, there will be fewer food-needy people in our community.


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