Seven days a week, Scarborough community food service hub and kitchen 5N2 bustles with volunteers, prepping and boxing meals to meet a demand that has ballooned since the pandemic.
For founder, Seema David who immigrated here in 2007, this is a labour of love, responding to a struggle she understands.
“With Scarborough having more than 50 per cent of our population being new immigrants, a lot of people are struggling,” David told Global News one afternoon.
“A lot of communities here, the cultural background, we don’t speak of these things…they suffer silently.
“We may be a tiny one drop in the ocean at this east end of Scarborough, but we still send out 3,500 supports every week.”
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At 5N2, those in need can pick up fresh vegetables from the community garden or select free groceries through 5N2’s by-appointment pantry — an option Suranjit, a single father of two, appreciates.
“You go to a food bank, you wait in a queue, sometimes you might know the people in the queue,” said Suranjit who only wanted to be identified by his first name. “But here, nobody knows.”
David says their services don’t stop there.
“We also have a meals to you program which delivers meals and groceries to people’s homes, especially those who are at higher risk and in isolation” said David.
David described it as “an [education] program where we want to teach people how to budget for food when they have limited money for food every month, also to teach them how to read nutrition labels, to understand nutrition labels to be able to make healthy meals.”
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These are services that are life-saving, says client Cassandra. who visits 5N2 once per week to feed herself and kids.
“Since COVID happened, my grocery bill has doubled — and I’m a diabetic, so I’m not supposed to be eating rice and pasta, but if it wasn’t for this place, that’s what I would be living off of again,” said Cassandra. “The fact that I can get nutritious food here is saving my life.
“Without them here, people would go hungry.”
And now these services could soon be gone, now that David and 5N2 are facing eviction after their lease was not renewed.
“The understanding was that he [the owner] has it for five years, on paper, he’ll give it to us or three years and then renew [for two years], which they don’t want to renew now,” said David.
By year’s end, David and 5N2 will have to be out of their current property.
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“We’ve been looking really hard for properties, but at market rent, there’s no way we can continue our work,” said David. “Even now, we’re struggling with our [current] space.
“Our freezers are full, our walk-ins are — you can’t walk-in, it’s not a walk-in for a long time. We’ve outgrown the space and so we need a much larger space now.”
With the help of a realtor, David did find a city-owned property nearby, located at 705 Progress Ave., well-suited or 5N2’s needs. David told Global News that the property has two loading docks and is large enough for 5N2’s expanded food programs.
But there are few major hurdles they still need to get over first.
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One is that they aren’t the only one vying for the space.
“So many agents, agencies are applying for the same space,” said David.
So she enlisted the help of the area’s councillor, Paul Ainslie, who filed a motion to ask the city to financially support and help 5N2 find a new home before Dec. 31.
“My biggest concern is that without the financial support and the appropriate space that Seema is going to have to close,” Ainslie told Global News.
“If they closed today, I have no idea how those people are going to be fed.”
Ainslie says he is committed to ensuring the city finds David a new home in time. But even if she secured the new property tomorrow, David says, the private donations and time-bound grants 5N2 gets now wouldn’t nearly be enough to cover up fit costs totaling nearly half a million.
Add that to daily operation costs and paying staff salaries and it’s overwhelming.
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David is calling for more funding from the government, as well as for corporate sponsors to assist 5N2 in becoming self-sustainable and to keep their services running.
“We don’t have any corporate partners,” said David. “We need that corporate partnership, and for individuals [who are] concerned in the community, we are looking for monthly sponsors.
“Without that monthly sponsorship it is hard to plan…we want to become self sustainable, but we need help for the next six years.”
David said she encourages business corporations to do their research on 5N2 and consider volunteering with them to see what they’re about, before partnering with them.
A GoFundMe page has also been set up to raise funds to help 5N2 secure a new space.
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