By: Amber McNeil
5n2 volunteer Christine explains that when she recently retired, she looked for a volunteer opportunity. “My interests are cooking and gardening, so I wanted to do one of those two things..food to me brings everybody together… I love working in an atmosphere where… everybody has a common purpose”. (Volunteer Highlights: Meet Christine)
Since the onset of the pandemic, 5n2 has seen an increased rate of food insecurity throughout Scarborough. This pushed this organization – and several other community groups – to adapt and expand its programming. During the pandemic, 5n2 received grant support to expand their weekly meal production from approximately 1300 meals to 3500 meals per week. They were also able to develop new programs such as a community garden, a meal delivery service- Meals2U, a Free Food Pantry, and a seniors’ technology education program. With all these programs, 5n2 volunteers worked to help enhance access to healthy foods, nutrition literacy, and even hot meals for individuals who had to self-isolate.
The success of an organization such as 5n2 would not be possible without the tireless and selfless work of its volunteer team. Volunteers continue to serve their communities week after week, month after month. Most have full-time jobs, families, and other commitments, yet they still find time to volunteer. Even on weekends and holidays, 5n2’s kitchen bustles with hardworking individuals. One volunteer explained that she worked at 5n2 full-time for her college co-op placement and fell in love with the organization. “It was an experience like no other,” she told me. She now volunteers once a week to give back to the organization and the community at large.
A Day in 5n2’s Kitchen
At 10:00 am in the 5n2 kitchen, volunteers were already underway with the day’s tasks. I learnt that Wednesdays were the busiest day of the week. Two volunteers were chopping bread into cubes; this would later be made into stuffing. 5n2 aims to cook culturally and seasonally relevant meals. With Thanksgiving just a few days later, the organization was preparing to send out traditional turkey meals accompanied will all the fixings to community members.
Producing a large and festive meal for so many people is not an easy task. Extra work is required by many people at 5n2- chefs, volunteers, drivers, and other staff. On top of everyone’s daily tasks, they now must spend time preparing food, packaging meals, and planning the program’s logistics. Volunteers also worked at 5n2 through the weekend to package and send out those meals.
Many food businesses, including Cobbs, Starbucks, No Frills and Aroma Espresso Bar, donate surplus food to 5n2. This is made possible with the help of the Canadian non-profit Second Harvest. Second Harvest is the largest food rescue operation in Canada, supporting over 2300 organizations across the country. With their help, businesses can put their unsold, surplus food to good use; Second Harvest seamlessly picks up the unwanted food and delivers it to people and places who need it. By doing so, they address food insecurity and also lessen the carbon footprint of wasted food. Once Second Harvest delivers food to 5n2, it is either given away in the Free Food Pantry or used to cook 5n2’s meals. 5n2’s chefs’ skills transform such surplus food that would otherwise go to waste into delicious and nutritious meals.
Depending on their availability, volunteers choose to work for a morning shift, afternoon shift or for an entire 8-hour day. With so much to do, and so many people to feed, everyone at 5n2 has little time to spare. The moment the volunteers finished chopping this bread, they began the next task without a moment’s pause. It was time to pack lunches for a nearby shelter, the Warden Woods 24-Hour Respite Site. The volunteers lined up 32 aluminum trays, to be filled with the freshly cooked food.
When the chef brought out the food, a pleasant aroma of spices, herbs and curry filled the kitchen. The chefs had prepared that food earlier in the week at the 5n2 kitchen, so that the volunteers on duty that Wednesday could heat, portion, and pack 32 meals for the shelter.
Like a well-oiled machine, each volunteer took their place in the assembly line and completed their task with diligence and care. One person placed the rice in the containers, another placed the chickpeas, and another placed the eggplant and potato. It only took only a few minutes to prepare all 32 meals with such an assembly process.
At 12:00 sharp, the volunteer drivers arrived and transported the nutritious meals to the shelter. Once the meals were delivered, the volunteers cleaned the kitchen and washed the dishes so they could begin prepping more food. In such a manner, Warden Woods 24-Hour Respite Site receives between 30 and 50 meals a day from 5n2. For many people at the shelter, this is the only meal they eat all day.
A Day in the 5n2 Garden
This past pandemic summer, the 5n2 community garden flourished and grew in importance. With the help of many summer students and volunteers, the garden— situated directly beside the kitchen— produced a bountiful harvest. In an effort to become self-sustaining and positively impact the environment, 5n2 obtained a composter for in order to compost food waste from the kitchen. Sunflowers also planted along the edge of the garden to promote pollination to foster plant growth.
Although the growing season was ending, the garden was full of fall vegetables. There was okra, eggplants, broccolini, and enormous butternut squash. There were even cherry tomatoes still in bloom.
In Search of a Space
5n2 is a pillar of the Scarborough communities it serves but faces a real threat of closure due to space and funding issues. The tenancy at its current kitchen location ends December 31st, 2021. Lacking the funding to afford the high rent in Toronto, and any support for a subsidized space, 5n2 is at a crossroads. In this winter of 2021, that difficult situation forced 5n2 to suspended all programs other than direct meal supports. It has launched a donation campaign, but real obstacles lie ahead, despite the commitment of its volunteers and staff.
For more information about 5n2, to inquire about volunteering or donating visit: