Seneca News

Seneca’s Newnham Campus ice rink
The Newnham Campus arena has been serving as a depot for the North York Harvest Food Bank since November. (Photo: North York Harvest Food Bank)

June 9, 2021

The ice rink at Seneca’s Newnham Campus has hung up its skates during the pandemic to help a local food bank feed a growing number of families experiencing food insecurity.

Since November, the arena has served as a depot for the North York Harvest Food Bank, with more than 350,000 kilograms of food passing through the facility for distribution to those in need.

“Immediately after the pandemic started, more than 70 per cent of our network went down,” said Henry Chiu, North York Harvest’s Director of Development & Marketing. “Due to safety protocol, we had to change our operation overnight. All of a sudden, we needed space to store and build our food hampers.”

Did you know?

The Newnham Campus arena was home to the Seneca women’s (1973 to 1987) and men’s (1977 to 2004) varsity hockey teams, an elite figure skating training program and community recreation learn-to-skate programs.

The women’s varsity hockey team won nine gold and five silver medals at the Ontario Colleges Athletic Association championships. The program boasted such notable alumni as Angela James and Geraldine Heaney, both members of the Hockey Hall of Fame.­

When approached by the food bank, Seneca offered the arena free of charge as a collection point for incoming donations. A handful of volunteers come in to sort the dry, non-perishable goods.

With the ice taken out, it wasn’t the arena’s cool temperatures that made it a good storage option, but its generous size and convenient location.

“Seneca was more than happy to assist,” said David Neale, Executive Director, Campus Services & Facilities. “The facility was available, and what better need could there be than supporting the food bank?”

In 2020, the North York Harvest Food Bank distributed more than 1.3 million kilograms of food — 450,000 kilograms more than usual. While clients used to be able to choose items, for safety reasons during the pandemic pre-packed hampers were provided instead. North York Harvest is distributing about 3,000 hampers a week across their network — each hamper weighing between four and seven kilograms.

“We have much longer lines,” Mr. Chiu said. “To sustain our services, safety became a priority. “The hamper model allowed us to expedite the distribution process.”

Currently, North York Harvest Food Bank is operating five locations outdoors to meet the increased demand and maintain client safety. The number of visits has gone up by 60 per cent during the pandemic.

“It has been quite a journey,” Mr. Chiu said. “People need emergency food because of circumstances. And we are so grateful for Seneca’s rink. Seeing the community coming together speaks to the situation where we are right now.”