Rogers Centre to become home to 10 million pounds of food

Rogers Centre, home of the Toronto Blue Jays. (Frank Gunn/CP)

TORONTO – Food Banks Canada is using the Toronto Blue Jays’ idle Rogers Centre home as a makeshift warehouse with the goal of storing and sorting eight million meals for distribution around the country.

Club owner Rogers and the team’s Jays Care Foundation announced the initiative, dubbed Step Up to the Plate, on Monday, although the idea began taking shape in April, with food beginning to arrive at the stadium in early May.

Already there are 1,000 food pallets, each with 1,000-4,000 items, at the dome, mostly stored in the outfield. The plan is to reach 6,000 pallets with 10 million pounds of food, which hundreds of volunteers from Rogers will then pack into individual hampers containing a week’s worth of meals.

The target is to fill 390,000 such hampers, the equivalent of eight million meals.

A start to the 2020 baseball season will not interfere with the program, as a contingency plan would move the pallets and packing process onto the stadium’s empty concourses, with work only taking place when the team is on the road.

Even if play begins, there’s no guarantee the Blue Jays will be able to play in Toronto, as the border closure between Canada and the United States along with the mandatory 14-day quarantine for all arrivals into the country have forced the team to consider backup plans.

The likeliest alternative for the club is to play out of its spring home in Dunedin, Fla., where a second training camp will be held should owners and players agree on a return-to-play deal. But the club’s strong preference is to play its home games in Toronto if allowed by health officials.

Packing of the food hampers is expected to start in a couple of weeks, with shipments to food banks across the country to follow afterwards. The food’s arrival at the dome is being staggered based on donation rates, the facility’s capacity and limitations on volunteers due to physical distancing measures.

Rogers Centre joins Scotiabank Arena, home to the Maple Leafs and Raptors, and BMO Field, home to Toronto FC and the Argonauts, as local sports venues to be repurposed to help the community amid the COVID-19 pandemic.

Maple Leaf Sports & Entertainment turned Scotiabank Arena into a giant kitchen back in April, producing 10,000 meals a day for front-line health-care workers and community agencies helping vulnerable segments of the population. Last month, the kitchens at BMO Field pushed the output up another 3,000 meals.

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