Scotiabank Arena transforms into Toronto's largest kitchen serving frontline workers

Apr 24 2020, 7:15 am

MLSE is working out of Scotiabank Arena with a team of partners to deliver up to 10,000 meals, each day, to local hospital frontline workers and community agencies.

Dubbed the “community meal program,” the operation is a joint effort between Maple Leaf Sports & Entertainment Ltd. (MLSE), Scotiabank, Tangerine Bank, Bell Canada, and Rogers Communications.

The large-scale meal program aims to support and thank Toronto’s frontline health workers and their families, and to protect the city’s most vulnerable.

“Scotiabank Arena normally serves as a gathering place for fans to be entertained and cheer on their teams, but today, as the world deals with the overwhelming impact of the COVID-19 pandemic, our arena will serve as a place for people to come together and support our community when it is most in need,” said Michael Friisdahl, president and CEO of MLSE, in a release.

“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.”

The arena has been completely transformed, now serving as the city’s largest kitchen.

(left to right) Michael Friisdahl, MLSE president and CEO, Lori Nikkel, Second Harvest CEO, Chef Chris Zielinksi, MLSE culinary director, and Brian Porter, Scotiabank president and CEO.

MLSE’s chefs and food and beverage staff are working together with employees from different departments within the company on this program, as the company’s sports and entertainment operations are halted due to the pandemic.

And what’s more, Scotiabank will be opening its kitchen facilities at Scotia Plaza in Toronto to further support the operation.

“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.

“Our health workers are the embodiment of our highest values and we are all grateful for their service and sacrifice, particularly during this period of acute need.”

Services or food donations have come from a number of additional partners, including 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.

Second Harvest — the largest food rescue organization in Canada — along with a network of local suppliers and sponsors, are supplying fresh ingredients daily to the MLSE team. Those supplies, along with food purchased or donated to the program, are then transformed into fresh, nutritious, ready-to-heat, single-serving meals that are suitable for a variety of dietary needs, and will be ready for delivery 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. Its massive impact has garnered notice from many, including Premier Doug Ford.

“Over the past few weeks, I’ve seen thousands of Ontario businesses and organizations do their part to support our front-line health care workers and our most vulnerable in the fight against COVID-19,” Ford said.

“By providing hot meals to our hard-working front-line workers, their families, and those in need, companies like MLSE, and the many others joining them in this initiative, are showing that the Ontario spirit is shining brightly during these unprecedented times. If we look out for one another, we will get through this crisis.”

MLSE Culinary Director Chris Zielinski preparing food in Scotiabank Arena kitchen

Toronto Mayor John Tory has also applauded the efforts of MLSE and its partners.

“This is a great initiative by a great organization that is a dedicated member of the Toronto community,” the mayor said.

“Businesses across Toronto are working with the not-for-profit sector and the City government to help those who need it most during these tough times – that’s the right and responsible thing to do.”

Not only will the meals benefit those who need them, they are also serving as a way for Second Harvest to share their bounty during a time when it’s otherwise difficult for them to do so.

“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,” said Lori Nikkel, CEO of the food rescue.

“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.”

To ensure the safety of the meals and of the people who are working to prepare them, MLSE worked with food hygiene experts and Toronto Public Health during the development of the new program.