In 1954, a woman in the North End in Hamilton Ontario anonymously donated $200 to the Hamilton Community Foundation (HCF), effectively launching the new charity with the first gift it ever received.
Sixty-eight years later, the foundation has amassed $260 million in assets from charitable donations.
That total has been topped up considerably by the single-largest gift the charity has ever received: $50 million.
HCF recently announced the commitment comes from the Paletta family, which made its fortune decades ago in the meat industry and, more recently, in real estate development.
The gift creates the “Pasquale & Anita Paletta Family Fund” at the foundation.
Pasquale (Pat) Paletta was born in Italy and immigrated to Canada in his teens in 1949; his father, Francesco, told his children of his experiences as an Italian army cook during the Second World War, where he said he had been traumatized by Allied bombings.
The Palettas settled in Thunder Bay and then Hamilton, where Pat met and married Anita, and worked in butcher shops before starting his own meat processing business “with $700 in savings and a truck,” according to the family.
He opened a meat packing plant in Hannon, near Binbrook, and then a plant in 1964 in Burlington, before branching into real estate — the side of the business now operated by Paul and Michael, two of his four sons, who grew up in Burlington. The family sold the meat business in 2016 to focus on land development.
“It was in the Hamilton community where our father started his business, and he never forgot where he came from and who helped him along the way … It’s important for us not to lose sight of that,” Paul Paletta said in an interview, adding that he hopes the gift will inspire others to donate as well.
The foundation has received $25 million of the Paletta’s gift, the other half is committed for the future.
“I am feeling grateful and humbled in the trust the Paletta family has demonstrated,” said HCF president and CEO Terry Cooke, who called the donation a “historic act of community building.”
It is among the most generous acts of philanthropy ever in Hamilton: Michael DeGroote donated $105 million to McMaster University’s medical school; David Braley made several donations to Mac and local health care totalling about $70 million; Charles Juravinski donated multiple gifts to Hamilton hospitals totalling $60 million (plus a $100-million endowment legacy fund).
The Paletta’s gift is the largest to the HCF since $40 million was given by Joyce Young in 2000 — at the time it was the most ever donated to a charitable foundation in Canada.
Last year, HCF gave 918 grants to 344 local charities, totaling $12.5 million.
The future for the rest of the funds will be determined by family members in consultation with HCF officials, who will suggest where it would be put to best use.
“It is always a joy to give back and put our philanthropic money behind worthy causes that are local,” said Paul Paletta. “This is just the beginning.”