When Second Harvest and Yonge Street Mission (YSM) first partnered in 2005, they had a simple goal: to ensure Torontonians experiencing poverty had access to nutritious food. Second Harvest supplies YSM’s Food Bank with a wide variety of food—which goes directly to 1,200 individuals every week who might not have access to healthy foods elsewhere.
Sixteen years later, both organizations have grown dramatically: YSM has served thousands of people and increased its programming to support the growing numbers of vulnerable Torontonians. Second Harvest has become a national nonprofit and helped facilitate the flow of rescued food to thousands of additional charities like Yonge Street Mission across the country.
Years of hard work by staff and volunteers at Second Harvest and YSM made this partnership possible for 14 years, and as operations scaled, a third organization joined the fight against food insecurity.
Chick-fil-A began its partnership with Second Harvest in 2019 through the Chick-fil-A Shared Table™ program, which donates meals to help fight hunger in local communities. With the help of Second Harvest, Shared Table bridges the gap between Chick-fil-A Operators and local charitable agencies like YSM, providing and distributing surplus food to those in need.
This program has been a staple of the company’s business in Toronto. Canada’s first location, Chick-fil-A Yonge & Bloor, partnered with YSM in 2019. Since then, the restaurant’s Operator and Team Members have forged a special bond with YSM.
YSM offers take-away meals through its Evergreen Centre for Street-Involved Youth and the Davis Centre for adults and families experiencing poverty, but Chick-fil-A chicken sandwich days are special hits in their community. Chick-fil-A and YSM have distributed more than 2,000 sandwiches in downtown Toronto —and counting.
But the impact goes far beyond a chicken sandwich.
“Once we welcome [a community member] with a hot meal, we engage in conversation, we aim to get to know them by name and begin to build trust and friendship,” said YSM’s Sandra Seaborn, Senior Director of Programs. “A meal generously donated by a familiar restaurant increases a community member’s sense of self-worth and often fast-tracks the trust building process.” Once that trust is built, community members are invited to join one of the many support services that YSM offers.
When the pandemic hit, Second Harvest, YSM and Chick-fil-A quickly saw an increase in the number of people experiencing food insecurity. It didn’t take long for the phones at YSM’s mental health team to start ringing off the hook and lines for their Food Bank to snake around the corner.
Second Harvest and Chick-fil-A stepped in immediately, coordinating generous food donations to meet the rising demand proving the strength of the friendship and commitment between all three organizations. In December 2020, Chick-fil-A awarded Yonge Street Mission a grant through its True Inspiration Awards™ program, which allowed YSM to keep its doors open and adapt its crucial services despite the pressures of the pandemic, which had increased YSM’s food budget by $5,000 each week.
“The donation of food and the acknowledgement from Chick-fil-A for the dedicated work of our staff in this community was a huge boost as COVID-19 wore us down,” said Seaborn. “We quickly realized that our long lineups and the continued stress on our community were not waning. It was the loyal support of partners such as Chick-fil-A that helped us to keep going.”
Despite challenging circumstances, the pandemic also strengthened the relationship between Second Harvest and Chick-fil-A.
“Chick-fil-A has done a great job building food rescue into their inventory management and loss prevention processes, which is at the heart of the important work Second Harvest does,” said Lori Nikkel CEO at Second Harvest. Before and throughout the pandemic, Chick-fil-A worked with Second Harvest to match good business with positive community and environmental impact.
“It’s amazing to see the food we donate directly benefit those in need in our community. This program has a positive impact on everyone involved, not just the recipients. It’s a reminder to our team that we can make a difference beyond our restaurant’s walls,” said Wilson Yang, Operator at Chick-fil-A Yonge & Bloor.
As life returns to normal, YSM will continue stocking its Food Bank with rescued food from Second Harvest, and people will begin to fill Chick-fil-A restaurants as the hospitality industry reopens. And one other thing will stay the same: All three organizations will continue to share a passion for collaboration, public service and the fight to get a warm, nutritious meal to every Torontonian who needs one.