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Self-care for Nonprofits Workers

Neil Young once famously said, “it’s better to burn out than to fade away”, in his 1979 hit My, My,Hey Hey. However, as nonprofit workers, we would beg to differ from the rocker. At 5n2, we strongly believe it is important to practice self-care before we can tend to the wellbeing of others.

Many of us start out with the desire of making a change. We commit our time to hours of paid or unpaid work to create the change we would like to see. Even if someone started off not caring about the cause, there is a certain ethos attached to nonprofit work. Unlike a for-profit setting where work is motivated by, well, a profit, nonprofits are motivated by philanthropic goals.

Take 5n2 for example: our mission of fighting food insecurity, and vision of creating equitable access to food supports in marginalized communities is ambitious, and some could even say larger than life. Individuals may feel like they are personally responsible for eradicating food insecurity, which can bring about anxiety and guilt: what if I am not doing enough? I should be working harder to help. This is a cause that I have dedicated my time to, and I can’t let down our cause!

Plus, since success in the nonprofit sector is measured by social impact rather than a salary, it can be difficult for the workers to separate their life-work balance and over-exhaust themselves. According to the Donorbox, symptoms include but are not limited to “fatigue, insomnia, forgetfulness and feelings of apathy/hopelessness”.

To honour our values of compassion, integrity, and collaboration, 5n2 would like to suggest a few tips and resources to prevent nonprofit burnout before anyone is feeling the heat.

1. Mandating work hours each day

It’s hard to clock-in and clock-out your compassion for a cause that you are emotionally invested in. But when you’re literally losing sleep to work on a project, it’s important to step back and evaluate if you’re neglecting your physical or mental health. It’s important to ask: are you maintaining a healthy lifestyle? While nonprofit work is gratifying, you must take fuel before you can take flight.

2. Setting emotional boundaries

You may exclaim, “but who’s going to find us sponsors?”, or, “who’s going to find grants to sustain our operations?”. There is always something to be done and it’s easy to spiral into a headspace where taking a break seems to end in catastrophic consequences.

But the truth is that you are not a psychic, and you can’t predict what will happen if you take the time off to enjoy a warm summer night, or a chat with a loved one. It is absolutely okay, even necessary, to put your foot down, and allow space and time for yourself to relax.

3. Forgiving yourself when things don’t go your way, and rewarding yourself when things do go your way!

Setbacks are inherent with any project, but they can feel especially devastating when it happens in one that you had given all your time to. As difficult as it is, we must forgive ourselves when our efforts go awry, and stay resilient. Or sometimes, you will land an unexpected victory. Celebrate it with your team, and remember those achievements when things get tough!

Ultimately, the bottom line is in understanding that you are not responsible for single-handedly changing the world. Besides, sustaining your mental and physical health means that you will be able to do more good in the long run.

If you or someone you know needs someone to talk to, please visit the Provincial Mental Health Supports here.

5n2’s Food Rescue & How It Helps To Save The Planet

We all know that cars and carbon dioxide are significant contributors to greenhouse gases in the atmosphere, but who would have thought that food waste has also been heating up our planet?

Here are three quick facts about food waste in Ontario:
1. According to the Environment and Climate Change Canada, 58% of Canada’s food is wasted. This is 35.5 million tonnes of wasted food! However, up to ⅓ of it can be rescued and redistributed as healthy meals.
2. Over 60% of Ontario’s food waste is sent to landfills
3. Ontarians alone generated nearly 3.6 million tonnes of food waste in 2019, or a little over 10% of all the food wasted in Canada.

Decomposing food in landfills releases a gas called methane, which is 28 times more potent than its more famous cousin, carbon dioxide. Methane is much more effective at trapping heat within the atmosphere, and we must be very mindful of it.

One tonne of dry, decomposing organic waste releases 65kg of methane. This means that Ontarians alone generate over 243 thousand tonnes of methane per year from food waste. Out of the 570 million tonnes of methane released each year from human activities, Ontario’s wasteful habit is already responsible for 0.043% of the pie. The methane released accelerates climate change, which not only worsens food insecurity by making extreme weather conditions more common, but also disproportionately affects disadvantaged groups. Lower income individuals simply do not have the means to cope with the damages induced by climate change.

But wait—didn’t we just say that about ⅓ of the food can be rescued? Yes, we did—and we are doing our part in this at 5n2.

5n2 relies on food rescue from local partners and cafes as a basis of what we serve to the community. We set out every week to grocery stores to pick up still safe to consume meats and produce. We then pass this food onto our kitchen staff to prepare nourishing meals, to our pantry program to redistribute to those who could not afford these foods at a premium, and to our food delivery programs for our clients who are at risk and cannot pick up the groceries for themselves. Our operations redirect 3500 meals every week from going to the landfills to communities who are food insecure, which translates to about 18 thousand meals per year. While this may not stop the acceleration of climate change, it is a significant impact to our local communities. Food rescue is not 5n2’s only sustainable effort either —we also compost and recycle nearly everything and we have a gardening program to cultivate an appreciation for our produce from seed to harvest.

While feeding the community, our food rescue initiative saves methane from cooking our planet. Greenhouse gases know no borders, and 5n2’s food rescue is a part of a global effort to sustain our planet for generations to come.

Food Sovereignty in the Garden

June can mean many things: it can mean beach days, watermelons under the sun, and since 2009 it has also been a month for us to celebrate Indigeous History in Canada. This month is a time for learning and appreciating Indigineous cultures in Canada. As an organization, we are on the traditional territory of many nations including the Mississaugas of the Credit, the Anishnabeg, the Chippewa, the Haudenosaunee and the Wendat peoples and is now home to many diverse First Nations, Inuit and Métis peoples. To celebrate Indigenous History month, we want to highlight the topic of food sovereignty, which we embrace in our community garden.

Food sovereignty is an important concept amongst Indigenous culture. It means that on top of just taking from the land, we are also respectful of the resources we take without being greedy. As many people become more aware of the ecological damage that our current farming methods can do to our soil, growing our own food is becoming more and more attractive. While the language for food sovereignty has only recently been introduced, the concept and the principles of it are what Indigenous peoples have lived by and developed over thousands of years. For example, the A Dish With One Spoon Agreement respects the mutual cooperation between the peoples and the resources of the land.

Plus, it means being able to grow culturally appropriate foods – foods that celebrate cultural dishes from our migrant-rich society. For example, Garlic Chives are native to Southwestern China and are culturally significant to Chinese cuisine (check out delicious recipes here). Unfortunately, they are not farmed in Canada and can be difficult to access. As a solution, many Chinese immigrant families take it upon themselves to garden garlic chives in their own backyard! When we practice food sovereignty, we can plant foods like garlic chives without inaccessibility or a hefty price tag…. Especially as the cost of food is increasing steadily.

Much like the reciprocal relationship that food sovereignty promotes, 5n2 Gardens harbours an appreciation for our food beyond their monetary value. We grow foods like bitter melon, okra, edamame and more to reflect the cultural makeup of our community, and to bridge the detachment we experience with our food. As most of us only associate our produce with a grocery aisle, promoting food sovereignty in gardening allows our community to develop an appreciation for the land which it grew on, and the people who cared for its harvest.

5n2 Gardens project is primarily a volunteer-run hub for promoting food sovereignty as well as community. We want to teach the importance of our food from planting to harvesting. Book a time today on our webpage and let’s get digging!

“The garden suggests there might be a place where we can meet nature halfway”
-Micheal Pollan

In Celebration of National Volunteer Week

The National Volunteer Week theme for 2021 is The Value of One, The Power of Many. How inspiring and true, especially during this past year as we have seen people help each other during the pandemic and also rise together to fight social issues impacting Canadian society.

The Oxford dictionary defines a volunteer as a person who does a job without being paid for it. Let’s be clear that just because the work done by a volunteer is unpaid does not mean it does not have value. Every single task a volunteer does counts at the end of the day towards the goal of the organization, making a contribution in achieving the charity’s mission. Volunteering provides an individual with an opportunity to make a difference and to be part of a community. For some, it’s a chance to meet new people and for others, to learn a new skill. Depending on where you want to volunteer, you can help onsite or from the comfort of your home. Find your passion project or learn a new skill. You can make a difference!

5n2 has remained open every day of the week over the pandemic and we have volunteer opportunities to suit many interests. We have positions in the kitchen for food preparation and for cleaning, drivers to deliver food to our clients and for food rescues. We need support with marketing and fundraising activities, social media and some of these roles can be done from home. We have a small community garden for which we are seeking individuals to help us grow herbs and vegetables to be used in the kitchen.

On a personal note, I have found my six years with 5n2 as a volunteer to be rewarding. You may contact us here at https://5n2.ca/volunteer for more information.

On behalf of our Executive Director, Seema David and Volunteer Coordinator, Indira Steele, we thank our dedicated volunteers for their service over the past years and we welcome new volunteers to the 5n2 team.

“Do your little bit of good where you are; it’s those little bits of good put together that overwhelm the world.”
– Desmond Tutu

Busy Tuesdays at 5n2

Do you ever wonder what goes on at a soup kitchen? What are all those people doing? Well, let me walk you through a typical Tuesday.

The day starts at 8:30 AM with a delivery of fresh produce from one of our most valued partners, Second Harvest. We have received potatoes, butternut squash, turnips, kale, lettuce and tomatoes which will need to be sorted. Chef Vikrum arrives at 10:00 AM to look over what we have and to decide what is on the menu today. He works with the kitchen team to prepare soups, salads, sandwiches, main lunch meal (protein with a starch). The food must then be put into single serving containers which is quite time-consuming! We have a list of locations including the number of orders (vegetarian and non-vegetarian) for this day and the team will package the servings in cardboard boxes for delivery to various locations in Scarborough or sometimes, pick-up here at 5n2. Any left-over food that is not used today will be packed up, dated and put away in our walk-in refrigerator for the next day or will be stored in the walk-in freezer for future use. Nothing goes to waste at 5n2.

Now that the food has gone out, it’s time to clean up the kitchen. Dirty dishes, pots and pans must be washed and the floor is mopped. Garbage is collected and sorted accordingly into compost, recyclable and non-recyclable. The washroom is scrubbed and the aprons and dishcloths are collected to be washed. Food that has come in during the day either through food donations or food rescues have been logged and put away. This is the day where one of our volunteers goes to a bulk retailer to purchase assorted goods needed to supplement the shortfall from donated and rescued food. And, he will also perform light maintenance work as required. There is always work to be done! Let’s not forget the administrative team behind the scenes that keeps our website running, manages our various programs, works with our clients etc. and that is always ready to step in when we are short-handed in the kitchen.

“It’s a real team effort to get the food out the door and everyone has a role to play,” recaps Seema David, founder and Executive Director of 5n2. When the lights go out at the end of the day, the kitchen is spotless, the aprons are clean, the larder is orderly and we are ready for whatever the next day brings.

“Sometimes we should express our gratitude for the small and simple things like the scent of the rain, the taste of your favorite food, or the sound of a loved one’s voice.”

– Joseph B. Wirthlin

March Is Nutrition Month

Nutrition is foremost in the mind of Seema David, founder and Executive Director of 5n2 when it comes to the preparation of the meals we serve to our clients. Her vision to provide fresh and hot food to those in need in the community has expanded to include Meals2U and 5n2 Food Pantry in its offerings.

There is enough food in Canada to feed its population however, not everyone has easy access to nutritious food nor can they afford to purchase it. The pandemic has exacerbated a problem that already existed which has been compounded by rising food prices, and for some, loss of income. We don’t all have a SUV to get into to drive to our favourite grocery or big box stores, to buy the freshest produce, protein etc., and to also have the means to afford it all! HFI (Household Food Insecurity) is an acronym to remember as we think of neighbours and strangers less fortunate than us who must make those hard decisions due to financial constraints when they go shopping for food. There are complex systemic issues related to poverty impacting nutrition from the very young to the elderly which need to be addressed at a national level.

For guidance on nutrition, you can check out Canada’s food guide which focuses on eating habits and provides recommendations on food choices. The Guide encourages Canadians to eat a variety of healthy foods each day, be mindful of their eating habits, cook more often, enjoy their food, and eat meals with others. In order to reflect Canada’s diversity, the Food Guide Snapshot is available in 31 languages, including nine Indigenous languages. Did you know the most popular recipe in 2019 was the Guide’s version of mac and cheese?

We may not be able to solve Canada’s poverty problem but we can make a small change by providing nutritious meals for our clients.

“There ain’t no point in making soup unless others eat it. Soup needs another mouth to taste it, another heart to be warmed by it.”
― Kate DiCamillo, The Tale of Despereaux

5n2 During Covid Times

It is almost unbelievable to think that a year has gone by since the Province of Ontario implemented safety protocols to manage the spread of the virus to protect its citizens.

We felt the impact immediately at 5n2 in the way we prepare meals for our clients going from large trays feeding 35 people down to individual portions in recyclable single use containers. This increased our costs and preparation time. As many of our volunteers are seniors, we were faced with a reduced number of volunteers to get the meals ready and to assist in other work at the kitchen. We also had less food rescue donations due to retail food establishment and restaurant closures. Yes, we did indeed face some challenges.

The pandemic has exposed food insecurity as an issue that is faced by many people living in Toronto, and statistics bear witness to an increase in number of visits to food banks and soup kitchens in 2020. By the end of 2020, we had doubled the number of meals we serve on a weekly basis and had added new locations for those in need in our community. We have adapted to the single use containers however there is still significant effort required in planning and scheduling deliveries to the various locations. We have grown, and we are introducing new programs this year. We are always looking for volunteers, food donations/ food rescue and monthly donors to keep us going one meal at a time.

We would not have been able to get through the past year without the support of our volunteers, partners, donors and grant makers. Onward with 2021!

“All sorrows are less with bread. “ –  Miguel de Cervantes Saavedra

Food Insecurity Is Not Just About Food

We all agree access to food is a basic need and should be treated as a human right for the most vulnerable in our society. If we can’t meet this need, then we are not meeting our social obligation to look after each other.
Food insecurity goes beyond than being just about putting food on the table. It is about the quality and quantity of the food, how it impacts the health of its consumers and its long-term effects. There is quite often poor access to fresh produce and there is also the constant stress of dealing with the rising cost of food. Food insecurity is a symptom of the disease of poverty. 
According to Homeless Hub, 1 in 7 (or 4.9 million) people in Canada live in poverty. Low-income families are more vulnerable to poor health than those earning a living wage and they use more healthcare resources because illness can make it harder to get out of poverty. Poverty can lead to sickness because of inadequate housing, poor nutrition, and less access to preventative health care.
Here at 5n2, we are providing more than a free meal. We are meeting our obligations, one meal at a time and will continue to do so as long as there is a need here in Scarborough.
“When a man’s stomach is full, it makes no difference if he is rich or poor.” Euripides


This year we have kept our doors open 7 days/week especially through COVID-19, as the need for our services has increased much.Even with our volunteer pool down by over 40%, we have had to adapt and keep going as many in our communities are in isolation, vulnerable and at risk and need our help.

Visit our website at 5n2.ca to consider how you could join hands with us to serve your neighbors.