This photo shows the damage to the side of the food bank building, including the scorched hydro pole alongside the back section.  Morin Photo

SOUTH MOUNTAIN – The House of Lazarus (HOL), food bank in South Mountain was destroyed by fire on Tues., April 25.

The food bank was originally a Bank of Nova Scotia branch, located at 10619 Main St. in South Mountain. HOL took it over in 2020 after the bank moved out of the small village. The bank donated the building to them.

The cause of the fire has not been determined, and no one was injured in the blaze.

Two HOL crew members were working at the front of the building when the fire broke out at the back of the building in the kitchen area. They were able to escape without injury but were understandably shaken.

Firefighters from all four North Dundas Fire Services in Winchester, Morewood, Chesterville and Mountain responded to the fire, which was called in around 1:30 p.m. Thirty-five to forty firefighters quickly contained the fire and entered the building from the back door. They were able to attack the fire from inside knocking the fire down quickly.

That strategy may have made all the difference when fire and insurance investigators determine if the structure can be saved.

The fire was contained almost immediately. The bystanders saw the fire trucks at the bank and went closer to see what was happening, said the fire was put out very quickly.

All the food bank items were destroyed in the fire except for meat that was stored in a walk-in freezer.

“After the fire was put out, the only thing that firefighters could save was all the meat that was in the walk-in freezer,” said Cathy Ashby executive director of HOL.

The North Dundas community was quick to help once word of the fire got out.

Dan Pettigrew from Winchester Foodland immediately made space to store the meat rescued from the fire as did Community Food Share. Later when Foodland ran out of room, Jonssons’ Independent Grocer in Kemptville took over and stored the rest of the meat.

The community responded quickly, and as a result HOL was able to open a temporary food bank at the Mountain Township Agricultural Hall, which opened Thursday morning courtesy of the Mountain and District Lions Club.

The Lions Club opened their kitchen facilities to HOL.

Ashby said in a Facebook post, “Neighbours stopped in to see if we needed anything and area food banks offered their support. Complete Custom Interiors boarded up the building.”

Ashby said HOL is in the process of getting access to a building in the area that will hopefully be theirs to use until they can sort out their South Mountain location.

She is hoping to finalize the arrangements for a new location within the month. The plan would be to secure an alternative location for at least a year to allow time to come up with a plan, if possible, for the South Mountain location.

Ashby said the firefighters did an amazing job of putting the fire out.

The Operation Backpack program was able to go ahead on Fri., April 28, and the HOL Ingleside branch will be open on Thursdays as usual.

The Winchester United Church stepped up and put on HOL’s Thursday community meal.

She said there are many moving parts to look after.

“We have had some great people in our community step up and say we will do this for you so you can work on getting everything you have to do done, so you can keep going.”

Last year HOL fed 800 people through their South Mountain location.

They also offer extra programs that make a difference to many in the community.

Despite the fire, Ashby said her priority is to move forward with the HOL programs already in place.

“The community allowed us to not miss any steps,” she said.

Operation Backpack, which serves up food for 237 students in 12 schools in the region, was able to go ahead.

North Dundas residents can help HOL by donating food and funds.

Food Donations may be dropped off at the following locations:

Township of North Dundas Office (Winchester)

Loughlin’s Country Store (Hallville)

Scotiabank Branches (Morrisburg, Kemptville & Chesterville)

Garden Villa (Chesterville)

Nationview Public School (South Mountain)

Jonssons’ Independent Grocer (Kemptville)

BMR (Winchester)

Go to the House of Lazarus Facebook page and use a QR code there that will allow you to directly financially support their “Food Bank Recovery Fund” or by visiting their website to donate at:

If you wish to organize a fundraiser or food drive, please reach out to: or