Image Credit: Jordan Bokma via 5n2
5n2 is a food charity based in Scarborough, Toronto that has been in operation since 2013. Before then, the small charity relied on the hearts of the community to fund their operations, and the hands of helpful neighbours to make meals for those who could not afford to eat. As of August 2021, 5n2 is operating at the greatest scale it has ever been: servicing 3500 meals every week to those who are food insecure, growing their own produce from a garden beside the facilities, and even appearing in local media for their Founder’s ScarbTO Hero Award. They have only begun receiving government funding to assist with operations in 2020 due to the pandemic. Despite their success, the charity is on the brink of lease termination and must relocate by the end of 2021.
5n2 is the very definition of a grassroots organization. Seema David, a new immigrant from India, was shocked by the poverty she witnessed in the streets when she commuted to her job at the University of Toronto. She was right to be; one in five Toronto residents experience food insecurity, and Seema knew she had a calling to build something to act as a “first response” against urban hunger. She decided that the something would be a soup kitchen, although she had never been to one herself. Despite all financial challenges, she created 5n2—even before qualifying for her Canadian citizenship.
The organization had grown into a lively facility at 2050 Ellesmere Road in the more industrious parts of town—similar to a seedling that can take root and grow in the harshest of environments. As of August 8th, 2021, 5n2 has five programs to help fulfil the organizational vision of creating equitable access to food supports in marginalized communities and the mission to fight food insecurity in urban communities.
The base food program, 5n2 Kitchens, cooks fresh and healthy meals for 13 locations. These include respite shelters, Toronto subsidized housing buildings, and the East Scarborough Storefront, among others. As Paul Hadian, a volunteer chef observed, “[5n2] places each client’s dignity at the forefront”. And perhaps most remarkable of all, their supplies are almost entirely rescued from grocery stores and bakeries. Food rescue not only redistributes otherwise wasted but is still safe to consume while saving tonnes of methane emissions from the atmosphere. According to Environment and Climate Change Canada, 58% of Canada’s food is wasted while one-third of it is still safe to consume. 5n2 Kitchens contributes to a sustainable future through its battle with food insecurity.
Next, is the 5n2 Food Pantry. It partners with agencies including Second Chance, Scarborough Centre for Healthy Communities, and other community leaders, to supply free groceries for folks who make less than $34,000.00 annually. Unlike a traditional food bank where clients line up for hours, the free Food Pantry allows each visitor a 15-minute appointed session. The pantry provides the autonomy to select food items and it even has a steady supply of rescued meats. The structure of the Food Pantry goes back to ensuring each client has the dignity to select what foods they would like to put on the table for themselves and their family.
The program 5n2 Meals2U is for those who are unable to travel and physically pick up food from the Food Pantry. Helpful volunteer drivers step in and take orders in grocery bags to distribute to homes in Scarborough.
5n2 EdU is another program launched at this time. The Independent Senior was a free course created for seniors to better navigate the modern world with lessons on using technology. It also taught lessons on how to read food labels for nutritional values and living a healthy lifestyle. Most importantly, the program dispelled the physical isolation many elders faced because of their heightened health risks during the pandemic. 5n2 EdU had many enthusiastic students during its time, but it was put on pause when the city went back into lockdown in the spring of 2021.
5n2 Gardens is a fitting metaphor for 5n2’s commitment to service. Despite the closures 5n2 had been forced to endure due to the pandemic, their spirit of resilience can’t be dampened. A healthy garden blooms in a 70 by 20 feet lot despite the surrounding industrial complex, determined to blossom and bear fruit. Helpful volunteers and summer students tend to these plants, and the harvests are then passed on to the main kitchen and served to 5n2’s clients.
The weeded plot only became a green oasis when Ian Ramsundar, the founder of We Got Plants!, invested his hope in its potential through donating 16 flats of a variety of seedlings. The seedlings were an investment of faith from a helpful neighbour and prospered into more than just plants but also a symbol of tenacity—reflecting 5n2’s community-based journey since its conception. The peas and beans continue to climb the fence, blissfully unaware of the lease termination.
5n2 will continue serving their community until the very end.