Drive past your neighbourhood food bank and you’ll find a scene that is all too familiar: a long line of people begins from the front of the door and pours onto the street.

Rain, wind or snow, these individuals wait for hours without guarantee that they will get the support they need. Meanwhile, their hardship is visible to neighbours and passersby.

It is a situation that speaks volumes about the shortcomings of traditional food banks and the reality of food insecurity in our society today. 

Rather than having individuals endure the shame of standing in line, which frequently discourages people from seeking assistance, we collaborate with other organizations to deliver nutritious meals and essential pantry items directly to the doorsteps of those in need.

Our empathetic approach eliminates the stigma associated with using traditional food banks and ensures accessibility for individuals who face mobility difficulties, mental health struggles and other challenges. 

What truly sets 5n2 apart, however, is our unwavering commitment to listening to clients. We understand that each person has unique dietary needs and restrictions and cater to these requirements, providing meals that nourish the body and the spirit.

5n2 was founded in 2013. After witnessing the alarming levels of homelessness on Toronto’s streets, I became determined to influence change in our community.

Initially operating as a soup kitchen, 5n2 began by serving 150 soups three days a week, from a local church’s kitchen to meet the rising demand for food assistance. 

In November 2020, when requests for a lease extension were denied, the organization refused to shut down operations. Fortunately, with the support of Councillor Paul Ainslie, the city provided the means to subsidize the new facility and fund renovations, acknowledging that 5N2 had become an essential service in the community

Looking to the future, we have plans to eventually become self-sufficient through a hydroponic garden project initiative, something no other Canadian food support charity has done before. 

We envision that this hydroponic farming system will provide a fresh, healthy source of produce for our kitchen and community engagement programs, year-round. The farms will become operational by the end of the summer.

The clock is ticking, however, as government funding is slowly running out. Obtaining funding is critical to ensuring 5N2 can continue serving the community in the face of ever-increasing demand. The same factors contributing to the urgent need for food banks, including rising food costs, are also causing donations to drop, resulting in financial uncertainty.

As we celebrate 5n2’s 10th anniversary of combating food insecurity this August, we are reminded of the challenges and struggles we have endured to get here. We hope to create a future in Scarborough where no one in our city goes hungry — a future filled with dignity and empathy for all.

Seema David is founder and executive director of 5n2 in Scarborough.

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