By: Amber McNeil
About the Organization
Feed Scarborough’s vision is for a hunger–free, resilient Scarborough. They seek to empower their community and provide innovative solutions to reduce poverty through dignified access to food. Feed Scarborough’s founder Suman Roy has long been a leading voice in the study of campus food insecurity in Canada through his advocacy work with Meal Exchange. When COVID-19 shut the doors of the Scarborough Junction neighbourhood’s one local food bank, Feed Scarborough came together to serve over 1000 families every week. Currently, they operate four food banks, a mobile healthy meal program out of a food truck three days a week, a mobile farmer’s market, and a community garden. Innovations include a grocery store model of food support to go, and an online small business incubator, called StartUp Scarborough. They launched the Feed Scarborough Training Centre in 2021, in partnership with the Birchmount Bluffs Neighbourhood Centre, to provide hospitality training for youth and new immigrants. This program, which operates out of their new community kitchen, enables participants to enter the foodservice and hospitality industries as skilled workers. They anticipate setting up a public food distribution hub and a food incubator public market in Scarborough over the next year. In this article, I will explain the processes and impacts of some of these programs and highlight some of Feed Scarborough’s fundraising initiatives.
The Feed Scarborough warehouse includes five long and wide rows of food that are organized and clearly labelled. Photos taken by author.
Feed Scarborough’s warehouse is located on St. Clair Avenue East in the Junction Scarborough Neighbourhood. As I walked toward the Feed Scarborough warehouse upon my first visit, I was immediately impressed by its size. Once inside, I realized that it is even more extensive than I initially thought. There is a commercial-sized walk-in fridge and freezer where they store produce, dairy, meat and other temperature-dependent food and a spacious kitchen ideal for cooking. The far corner of the warehouse is designated for packaging online food bank orders. Across from that is a set of offices to run the administrative work of the organization. Feed Scarborough relocated to its current location in May 2021 because the size of its operation outgrew the previous warehouse. The operations coordinator, Sukhmani Singh, stated that it was a “great move.”
The day I visited, all the volunteers and staff were busy with their daily tasks. I was told that this was very typical; the volunteers and staff rarely stop working. The COVID-19 pandemic significantly increased the impact of food insecurity for people in Scarborough, and as a result, the demand for food aid is significant. To meet this demand, the number of volunteers has doubled over the past year. It currently takes approximately 120 volunteers to run all the daily operations at Feed Scarborough. One volunteer I spoke with relayed that she volunteers at this organization because “food is a basic human right [and] I believe that no one should go hungry.”
Mobile Farmers’ Market: Healthy Meal Program
The Feed Scarborough On the Go Bus is used to deliver meals for the Healthy Meal Program. Photo taken by author.
In 2020, Feed Scarborough developed The Healthy Meal Program. With the help of tireless volunteers, this program produces 150 nutritious meals on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays. These meals are produced in the industrial-sized kitchen located within the warehouse. This kitchen features commercial fridges, freezers, sinks, and kitchen utensils, allowing volunteers to cook safely and effectively. Meals feature foods from various cultures to reflect the social diversity of the region. This includes offering meals that are vegetarian and Halal. Moreover, the majority of meals include all the food groups to ensure they are healthy and balanced. The volunteers and staff ensure that whatever food enters the warehouse first is the first to go out, limiting the amount of food waste– an important goal for any organization addressing food insecurity. Once the meals are made, the food is placed into insulated delivery bags and loaded onto the small bus pictured above. The meals are delivered to different locations around Scarborough such as Teasdale Place Community Housing. And at noon, the food is welcomed by a long line of people waiting. Feed Scarborough meals are available to anyone in need of food assistance but are specifically catered toward elderly people, minimum wage workers, and people experiencing homelessness.
Feed Scarborough operates four food banks, Oakridge, Kennedy, Markham, and Cliffside. Each location operates on different days and times in an effort to make food assistance as accessible as possible for the residents of the neighbourhoods that each site serves. While I did not get the opportunity to visit every food bank, I briefly went to the Oakridge Food Bank, which operates on Wednesdays from 11:00-2:00 at the Byng Tower on Danforth Avenue. When I visited on a Tuesday morning, the volunteers had just received a delivery from Daily Bread, a large non-profit food organization operating out of Toronto. The volunteers were busy unloading the truck and stocking the shelves so that the clients could have a wide selection of fresh and preserved food the next day.
The location of each of Feed Scarborough’s Food Banks. Map created by author.
What sets Feed Scarborough’s food banks apart from others in the community is that they operate much like a grocery store. While most food banks give clients a premade basket of food, clients at the Feed Scarborough receive a preloaded shopping card with an allocated budget. They can choose their own food off the shelves, just like at a grocery store. Seventy percent of the clientele at Feed Scarborough are recent immigrants, so they may not know how to cook or enjoy food that is typical in Canada. So, with the grocery store model, clients receive culturally acceptable food that adheres to dietary restrictions. Additionally, a lot of the food distributed using the traditional food bank model is wasted, yet with a grocery store model, clients use most, if not all, of the food they receive.
There is also an online food bank option for those that feel uncomfortable or are unable to wait in line to access the food. This is an essential service for many elderly and immunocompromised people. People using this resource simply place their orders online, and volunteers will pack their boxes for them. These boxes are then shipped to the food banks, ready to be picked up.
Even in late October, there were plenty of tomatoes ready to be picked. Photo taken by author.
The Scarborough Junction Community Farm makes efforts to grow its food organically and in harmony with the environment. There are beehives along one side of the fence that were part of an educational campaign to increase awareness of the importance of bees and honey within our food chain. A few of the garden plots were used to plant pollinator plants such as sunflowers to encourage the presence of bees, butterflies and other insects that aid plant growth. Finally, there are compost bins that collect food waste from some of Feed Scarborough’s food programming. Composting is important as it reuses nutrients back into the soil, decreasing food waste’s environmental and economic impacts. The importance of protecting the environment further demonstrates the inseparable link between the food systems, community and the natural world.
The wood fire oven is a popular addition in the Scarborough Junction Community Farm. Community members use it to cook Neapolitan pizza and homemade casseroles. Photos taken by author.
The garden does far more than just grow food and protect the environment; it provides a much-needed green space to the Scarborough Junction neighbourhood. Before this garden space, the community had limited places where residents could access fresh air. Many residents in this neighbourhood are a part of a lower socioeconomic class, which can further hinder their ability to travel to surrounding communities for green space. Anyone is welcome to go to the Feed Scarborough Garden at any time of day. Over the summer, it became a hub for people to meet up and spend time with others in their community. People stopped by to share a coffee or read a book while enjoying the benefits of spending time in nature. Saturday afternoon barbeques subsequently became a popular socially distanced activity for friends and families. This space is an asset to non-profit organizations, as they can use the space to host events and fundraisers at no cost.
A volunteer distributed candy and prizes to children after they completed Halloween Activities. Photo taken by author.
All of Feed Scarborough’s programs require monetary donations. To cover the cost of programming, Feed Scarborough takes part in fundraising efforts. On October 29th and 30th, 2021, the organization threw its first-ever Halloween Fundraiser. With over 500 tickets sold, the event was a huge success! I attended the fundraiser on Friday, October 29th and had a fun-filled evening of laughs and the occasional scream. It was a family-friendly event, drawing many families with children young and old. The children laughed as they played in the hay bales and took part in spooktacular games such as Ghost Bowline, Lucky Loops Bean Bag Toss, and a fan-favourite Punch-a-Pumpkin. After completing the games, all children got to take home a prize of candy, stickers, or a literacy book.
“Enter if you dare” and “help me” were just two of the many scary displays in the Feed Scarborough Haunted House. Photos taken by author.
Only the bravest people at the event mustered up the courage to enter the terrifying, blood-chilling haunted house. The haunted house was complete with smoke machines, strobe lights and eerie music. As I walked through, many volunteers dressed as monsters, ghosts and zombies seemed to jump out of nowhere, making my heart skip a beat. At one point in the haunted house, hands that I thought were fake began to move, catching me by surprise.
My experiences with Feed Scarborough reified its significant impact on the Scarborough Junction Community. Their outreach extends far beyond just feeding hungry people. They address all the social determinants of health while providing a sense of community and belonging to countless individuals. It is a great asset that the community is fortunate to have.
Feed Scarborough and Meal Exchange have worked with the Feeding City lab for more than a year on their research on GTA food insecurity and advocacy of BIPOC food sovereignty initiatives. https://www.utsc.utoronto.ca/projects/feedingcity/2021/01/30/event-highlight-2021-summit-on-poverty-inequity-hunger-tuesday-february-9th-2021-at-500-pm-est-feed-scarborough/
Their founder spoke at Feeding City’s online public event to a global audience in February 2021: https://www.utsc.utoronto.ca/projects/feedingcity/2021/03/03/feeding-the-city-webinar-4-leading-on-food-security-emergency-responses-in-a-diverse-city/.
Meal Exchange was featured here: https://www.utsc.utoronto.ca/projects/feedingcity/2021/05/05/covid-19-and-campus-food-insecurity/
For more information about Feed Scarborough, to inquire about donating time or money, visit https://scarboroughfoodsecurityinitiative.com/home or email firstname.lastname@example.org