While Covid-19 forces many sports stadia and arenas to stand empty, one initiative in Toronto is taking advantage of the large space at the Scotiabank Arena to serve meals to frontline health care workers during the crisis.
Scotiabank Arena, home of the 2019 NBA Champions Toronto Raptors and NHL’s Toronto Maple Leafs, has been turned into Toronto’s largest kitchen as Maple Leaf Sports & Entertainment and several key partners prepare as many as 10,000 meals a day for frontline health care workers and community agencies in the Greater Toronto Area.
Joining MLSE as founding partners in the community outreach effort are Scotiabank, Tangerine Bank, Bell Canada, and Rogers Communications.
“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 & CEO of MLSE. “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.”
Scotiabank Arena has been transformed into Toronto’s largest kitchen, with its numerous food preparation facilities and the arena floor being used to prepare and assemble the meal packages. MLSE’s chefs and food and beverage staff, along with employees from different departments within the company, are working together on this program as the company’s sports and entertainment operations are halted due to the pandemic. In addition, Scotiabank will be opening its kitchen facilities at Scotia Plaza in Toronto to further support this initiative.
“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.”
In addition to the founding partners who initiated the program, a number of other important supporting partners provided financial assistance, services or food donations 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.
“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,” said Doug Ford, Premier of Ontario. “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.”
“I want to thank MLSE and the other partners involved for stepping up and supporting our frontline healthcare workers, their families and community organizations across the city. This is a great initiative by a great organization that is a dedicated member of the Toronto community,” said Toronto Mayor John Tory. “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. Thank you to MLSE and their corporate partners for working together to help our residents get through this emergency.”
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. The chefs will then turn those food supplies, along with other food purchased or donated to the program, into fresh, nutritious, ready-to-heat single-serving meals suitable for a variety of dietary needs. Meals will then be labeled before being readied 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.
“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 organization’s 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 Second Harvest. “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.”
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 who are working to prepare them.