Scotiabank Arena Becomes Giant Kitchen to Feed Healthcare Workers Amid Pandemic

By Etan Vlessing 4/24/20 |

Photo courtesy of MLSE.
The giant kitchens at Scotiabank Arena in Toronto usually cooks and caters to fans cheering on their favourite sport teams or music artists. But with the 19,800-capacity venue darkened during the COVID-19 pandemic due to restrictions on public gatherings, chefs and other staff at Maple Leaf Sports & Entertainment (MLSE) are now cooking 10,000 community meals daily for frontline healthcare workers, their families and community agencies.

MLSE, Scotiabank and its subsidiary Tangerine Bank, and Bell Media and Rogers Media partnered to cook and assemble meals to be distributed to local hospitals, as they tackle the COVID-19 virus.

"In a time of crisis like we are experiencing, many different needs emerge, and we saw this as a chance to use our facilities and engage our people to serve our community. We are grateful to MLSE’s employees, our teams through the Team Toronto Fund and the Maple Leafs Alumni for their donations and our generous partners for helping answer the call and providing the resources needed to fill an important need at this critical time," MLSE president and CEO Michael Friisdahl said in a statement.

The arena's makeshift kitchen has received food donations, logistical services and financial assistance from, among others, Sobeys, Sysco, Maple Lodge Farms, Dairy Farmers of Ontario, Maple Leaf Foods, McCain Foods, Unico/Primo, Mars Wrigley, Coca-Cola, Weston Foods and Pinnacle Caterers.

MLSE worked with food hygiene experts and Toronto Public Health during the development of the program to ensure the safety of the meals and of the people preparing them.

The initiative is one of many worldwide as charitable efforts are made to deliver food to frontline healthcare workers facing a growing influx of COVID-19 patients in the last two months, many of whom end up on ventilators and requiring emergency intensive care attention.   Healthcare professionals are also being offered the option of staying in local hotels to self-isolate, rather than return home after long hospital shifts and possibly spread the coronavirus to their families. 

Scotiabank arena has enlisted the help of Second Harvest, a food rescue and redistribution charity that, along with a network of local suppliers and sponsors, supplies fresh ingredients daily to MLSE’s chefs and food and beverage staff as they drive their giant assembly line for community meals.

“To limit the spread of COVID-19 while maintaining social distancing, it’s essential that community food programs now provide takeaway meals to an increasing number of people in need. Unfortunately, many of the organizations Second Harvest supports do not have the kitchens or money necessary to do that – and that gap puts thousands of vulnerable people at risk. We are incredibly grateful to MLSE and its partners for helping us close that gap by mobilizing its world-class venue and chefs, and for the generosity of so many food donors that are enabling us to provide thousands of meals every week. We are determined that no one be left behind," Lori Nikkel, CEO of Second Harvest, said in a statement.

Second Harvest on its website notes that safety precautions during the pandemic have their truck drivers maintaining social distancing as they receive and distribute food donations much like the healthcare workers receiving the fresh, ready-to-heat single-serving meals five days a week.

The program is expected to prepare and deliver hundreds of thousands of meals over the coming weeks for the network of hospitals and community agencies.

To prepare the meals at scale, Scotiabank has also reopened its own kitchen facilities at Scotia Plaza in Toronto.  

"We are very proud to be utilizing Scotiabank Arena and the kitchen facilities in Scotia Plaza to feed the most vulnerable members of our community, and care for our front-line health workers as they care for us all,” said Scotiabank president and CEO Brian Porter in his own statement.

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