5n2, a food-based charity operating in Scarborough, is confronting an imminent lease termination. The charity serves, on average, 3,500 meals every week to people experiencing food insecurity in Scarborough. They claim to have served a total of 489,459 meals since their founding in 2013.

Seema David, 5n2’s founder, was presented with the Community Action and Service Hero Award — an award co-created by UTSC and a number of other colleges and organizations in the area — at the Scarborough Hero Awards in 2021 for her efforts toward combating growing food insecurity in Scarborough. She is now looking to the Scarborough community for support in securing a new location for 5n2 through the Community Space Tenancy (CST) program, which helps find space for interested charities and nonprofits.

What 5n2 does

According to David, 5n2 opened in 2013 primarily as a food kitchen, but during the pandemic, the charity saw a greater need for a wider variety of services. It introduced four new programs, including a food pantry, a garden, a food delivery service, and an education service for seniors looking to gain more technological skills. 

She also emphasized the importance of collaboration. “We have partnerships with other people growing fresh produce and bringing us the fresh produce, straight from the harvest to our clients, to say that ‘we value you,’ ” she said.

She added that she learned that “without collaboration, you can do nothing. You have to have partnerships, you have to build community relations even to [be able to] give free food.”

Lease termination 

In an interview with The Varsity, David shared the new challenges 5n2 faces because of its lease termination. 

David explained that in the current market, rent is too high for 5n2. As a charity, they do not possess the funds to keep up with current market rates. Scarborough housing prices have increased significantly, even in comparison to other fast-growing markets around Toronto. A report from Properly, a real estate technology company, found that housing prices in Scarborough increased by 25 per cent in May compared to their pre-pandemic levels. 

“People who own these spaces are not willing to give it below market rent. Everyone’s out for the profit,” said David. 

David added that even the current space on Ellesmere Road no longer fulfills the growing needs of 5n2’s patrons. David explained that the current location has insufficient storage space, which heightens the chance of food waste.  

The CST program — a program through which the city of Toronto leases city-owned properties to eligible nonprofits below market rate — offered a potential location to 5n2. According to David, 5n2 must now wait four to six weeks for its application to be reviewed before it finds out whether it has acquired the lease for the location.

However, the potential new location does not only require the charity to sign a lease. The move would mean extensive work rezoning the building with kitchens that would meet the standards and regulations of a food bank. 

“It’s going to cost in the region of $800,000 to $1,000,000,” said David. She consulted a builder to construct the estimate.

David hopes to continue operating at the current location while work progresses at the new location if 5n2 acquires the lease. She added that there weren’t any other potential locations within an affordable price range that meet the criteria necessary for 5n2 to operate.

Raising funds

The team at 5n2 has set up a GoFundMe campaign in hopes of raising funds for the renovations needed at the new location. Currently, the campaign has a goal of $20,000, and it has raised over $8,500.

David also shared that one way for individuals to help 5n2 is by becoming monthly donors — a donation of $50 a month translates to 10 meals for people experiencing food insecurity in Scarborough. Additionally, David encourages students to volunteer at 5n2 and to advocate for small charities. 

— With files from Lauren Alexander