Blog posts tagged in Hunger

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Hi everyone! My name is Merryn, and I’m so excited to join the MX national team as the new program coordinator! I first became passionate about food systems when I volunteered in Thanksgiving food drives with my parents. During my undergraduate degree, I became engaged in bringing local, healthy food to the McMaster University campus through the Farmstand. While working at the nutrition department of the Hamilton Family Health Team, I was able to see first-hand how those living on a low-income faced challenges when trying to maintain a healthy diet, which ultimately impacted their ability to be fully engaged in work and at school.


 Merryn 1


During my Masters in Public Health, I volunteered at the campus food bank at the University of Waterloo. I realized that students were dealing with some of the same food security issues I had seen in my neighbourhood, and conducted my thesis research on the experience of undergraduate student food insecurity. Through these experiences, I’ve discovered that food can be a rallying point for people to gather around community and neighbourhood issues. I’m really interested in researching the connection between food insecurity and health in Canada, particularly among students!


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Meal Exchange is an amazing organization to be a part of, because I get to interact with you passionate people, and work on campus food issues. My colleagues and our student volunteers inspire me, and make me excited to come to work each day! I can’t wait to work together to build a more just and sustainable food system.

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Meal Exchange staffer, Michael Waglay, was able to catch up with Jaida Regan who just graduated from Dalhousie University. Here is the story of her rich campus life: 

Could you tell me about your first experience or encounter with Meal Exchange?


My first encounter with Meal Exchange was two years ago, when Lars, Owen and Hillary worked for Meal Exchange. They hosted a roundtable event to let people know about food services at Dalhousie and their future directions; I attended that event.


What was your impression of Meal Exchange when you started?


I got the impression that it was an open venue for students to get to know about campus food systems. It seemed open enough to allow for any ideas or concepts you wanted to work on on campus and they allow you to run with it.


Could you walk me through how you became involved in the Meal Exchange program at Dal?


At Dalhousie we didn’t have a Meal Exchange chapter, but we had a Campus Food Strategy Group, and it has Coordinator positions. I applied for one of those. I knew Sami Luke, who had the position before me, so I was familiar with the idea. I got the position and met Caitlin Colson, who worked at Meal Exchange. Caitlin supported me in running with the idea of the “campus as a living lab” for a project in my Sustainability Degree, where we worked on using reusable containers on campus; I was excited to work on that through the position. We’re still working on this project, but it is a really exciting process!


What would you say are some of your accomplishments on your campus? 

What’s unique about Dal is that there are several student-led food initiatives: there’s the community garden, the farmers’ market, the Loaded Ladle, our food bank, and the food strategy group, so I think the role of the campus food strategy group is to “raise the voices higher” of those groups--- not raise the voices higher, what’s another word for that…




Yeah, there you go! You know. The Campus Food Strategy Group helps people become aware of all the food issues on campus. One of the major accomplishments of the group was having almost all local food served at Orientation Week last year, something we’re planning to do again this upcoming O-week as well.

We developed a food board policy--- we’ve gotten all of members within the group excited about it, but now it will have to pass through council. We have a new student union executive too, so we’re starting to work with them.  

We also worked with the Ecology Action Centre, and we hosted a food policy workshop, which was really cool. We had students from all different universities like King’s College, and Mount Saint Vincent; students who study nutrition and others in social sciences and food policy. It was great to have an interdisciplinary group working together on these kinds of issues. We also worked with NSPIRG to host a film as part of the Cinema Politica series.

We got a paid position under the Dalhousie Students’ Union to do survey research to figure out what students think about food services and what direction it should go in. We also got a permanent position under Sustainability Office at Dal, which is the position I have. The positions have allowed us to ensure that we are able to transition to new students to get great work done.

How did connecting with Meal Exchange shape your university experience?

It shaped my experience considerably. I already had an interest in food, and my degree is in Sustainability and Political Science, so I kind of wanted to put a twist on it and focus on food policy. Being part of this program helped me decide to do my undergrad thesis on the Alternative Campus Food System at Dalhousie University.

Meal Exchange helped make me more aware of food issues--- this awareness led me to join the Food Action Committee of the Ecology Action Centre. It was nice that it wasn't just student-based, and it was a great place to meet different kinds of people to discuss different bills as they go through the government, like the issue around the Wheat Board.

Because of Meal Exchange, I also decided to do my graduate research on food waste in Canada. I’ll be studying this issue through my Masters in Geography at Guelph University starting this fall.


How will you continue working on social justice and environmental sustainability in the future?


I’m really interested in social justice and environmental justice, especially through food. Actually, I just visited the Guelph campus today and I already went to OPIRG to see what kind of programs they have to do with food. They have a Food Not Bombs Chapter, so I’d be interested in getting involved there. Right now it is not necessarily an occupation for me, but ongoing research. I’m also eager to continue volunteering my time with the Food Secure Canada Youth Caucus.

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After three years of connecting with the Meal Exchange network, Amy Brierly reflects on her experiences and shares how she'll continue to apply what she's learned in the future. 


When did you first connect with Meal Exchange?
The 2012 National Student Food Summit, right before I took on the role of Student Food Resource Coordinator at StFX. The National Student Food Summit was recommended to me by the past Student Food Resource Coordinator. The Summit was transformational. It helped me feel connected to something bigger and to know that students were making real changes on their campuses. The Summit helped to prepare and fuel me for my work on campus - I’ve gone back to the Summit every year since!

What are some of your accomplishments on your campus?
Each of the accomplishments achieved on campus were a group effort - made possible by a foundation built by my peers, community members, and the Meal Exchange network. The main accomplishment for me has definitely been building a better food system through collaboration. Through this collaboration we have seen many benefits, including the development of a Farmers’ Market on campus and moving the Student Food Resource Centre to a more accessible and welcoming space on campus.

How did connecting with Meal Exchange shape your university experience?
Meal Exchange has provided me with a safe space to share ideas and feel supported. The Meal Exchange network has helped me practice and shape my understanding of development, which is what I studied during my university career. Through my work with Meal Exchange, I’ve seen that as a student, my role extends far past the classroom and that I have the opportunity to make significant change on campus and within my community.

How will you continue food work into the future?
I was recently given a wonderful opportunity to be an OceanPath Fellow with the Pathy Family Foundation and Coady Institute. Through this fellowship I will be working with community groups in Antigonish who are working in the local food movement, specifically around a local food hub. I’m excited to hopefully bring what I’ve learned on campus into closer conversation with the larger movement and to collaborate on all sorts of initiatives with the community. My ties with St. FX will be important in this work, especially for supporting institutional procurement of local foods.

How would you like to continue to contribute to Meal Exchange in the future?
While I stay in Antigonish, I look forward to providing support to new student leaders, facilitate community connections, and stay in touch with the national office. Though I’m not sure what the future holds, I’d to continue to be apart of this movement indefinitely.

We wish Amy all the best in her next adventures and for her contributions to St. FX, Antigonish and the National Meal Exchange network.


Meal Exchange student leaders from the University of Calgary’s annual Hunger Week brought many inspiring events to raise awareness for food security on campus and in their community. With the theme of “Feeding the Body, Mind, and Soul” in mind, events like workshops and panel discussions examined food’s role in all aspects of health. Jesse Stanich, Co-Coordinator at Meal Exchange Calgary took some time to speak with Tim Li, Meal Exchange Communications Volunteer, on their exciting week.

Tim: What were some of the highlights of Hunger Week?

Jesse: Some of the highlights were handing out of snack packs at the beginning of the week and our event called "Views from the Loft", where we discussed the interconnected and cultural considerations of food. The buzz created by the snack pack event is always a good starting point to the week as we handed out information regarding the other events. Students also got a chance to voice their opinions on current food issues.

Tim: How did the students and faculty respond to and engage with the events?

Jesse: While there is room for improvement on the attendance frontier, I felt that individuals who attended the events got an excellent experience. Our staff at the Centre for Community-Engaged Learning and the Leadership and Student Engagement program were very engaged in the events and helped advertise them greatly.

Tim: What inspired this year's theme, “Feeding the Body, Mind and Soul” ?

Jesse: The Student Union Wellness Centre inspired much of our theme for this year. All events were shaped around their seven dimensions of wellness - physical, academic, mental, financial, social/cultural, environmental, and spiritual. Mental health is an increasingly important issue being raised on campus, and much of the inspiration for holistic wellness came from the desire to incorporate other aspects of wellness beyond the physical.

Tim: Could you tell me about the Hamper Project?

Jesse: The Hamper Project challenges 3 students to spend the week with different food restrictions to experience what it is like to have limited food access on campus. This year, 3 students ate exclusively halal, gluten/lactose free, or from the student food bank. It brought about a moment of realization for those who have little to no dietary restrictions. Being limited on campus in terms of food can be a large disadvantage in terms of diversity and availability of food in general. One of the biggest moments of the panel discussion in my opinion was when one of our biggest Halal advocates informed us that progress had been stopped in terms of bringing a larger diversity of Halal food to our Campus. This showed how even awareness and advocacy is sometimes not enough to bring about change; we need more real solutions to these problems if they have been raised.

Read more on the Hamper Project student experience here

Interested in starting a hunger week initiative on you campus? Contact your local Meal Exchange chapter or This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

Donating to Meal Exchange helps make hunger awareness events and other important work possible.

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Canadian Pacific has been a proud sponsor of our Trick or Eat campaign since 2008, and their contributions have enabled Meal Exchange to recruit more volunteers, run a larger national campaign, and create a larger and lasting impact in hunger affected communities across Canada.


CP also hosts their own event focused on hunger in communities, the CP Holiday Train. CP’s Holiday Train has been hitting the rails since 1999, and to date has raised more than $7.4 million and over 3 million pounds of food in the US and Canada. This year, the Holiday Train visited over 150 communities in Canada and the US, and Meal Exchange made it out to the Toronto stop (that's Heather and Caitlin in the photo)!

Although it was a very chilly night, the crowd and the atmosphere made the event feel quite toasty. The highlights of the stage show included performances by The Claytones and the Brothers Dube, as well as hearing from other supporters of the Holiday Train, including Meal Exchange’s very own Peter Kapler!

Tagged in: Hunger Sponsor Toronto

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Thank you for a spooktacular Trick or Eat!

We hope everyone’s post-Trick or Eat recovery is going well! At the MX office, we’ve put away our costumes, tallied up our results, and are now ready to share them with you. But why tell you, when we you!

Yes, that’s right, thanks to the dedication and support of participants like yourself, we were able to raise a total of $475,000 worth of food and over $19,000 worth of funds to support local food agencies across Canada, the US, and even a food agency in Melbourne! We’ll be sharing some of the photos from Trick or Eat campaigns across the land on our Facebook page, so stay tuned.

We’d also like to recognize our prize winners for Trick or Eat 2013!

Prize Category Winner
Two tickets anywhere WestJet flies Draw: Every $25 raised  = 1 ballot Luke M.
One-year GoodLife Fitness membership Draw of anyone who registers Olivia S.
$50 Winners gift card (10) Week of Winning draw (2), Social Media draw (3), and 2nd – 6th highest fundraisers (5) Amanjot G., Hailey S.; Kristen A., Areum J., Andrew M.,; Natasha C.l, Pam T., Claire K., Katie C.,  and Sulara G.
One night stay at any Delta Hotels & Resorts Top Fundraiser Vinosha J.
3M gift basket Organizer survey draw Gayathri W.
Dermalogica gift basket & treatment Top Workplace Campaign Jennifer K.
$150 U-Haul gift certificate Education Quiz Emily M.
$100 Ethical Ocean gift certificate Organizer Competition for the most participants registered by Oct. 14 Gayathri W.
Signed Raptors Basketball Week of Winning Draw Paige W.
1:FaceWatch (2) Photo Contest Randa A. & Ali Y.
Signed Arkells CD & T-shirt (5) Week of Winning Draw Pengyi Q., Jaqueline D., Paige R., Alice B., and Jessica K.

On behalf of everyone at Meal Exchange, congratulations to all of the winners!

Our success with Trick or Eat is thanks to all the time, effort, passion and generosity that our Trick or Eat organizers, volunteers, participants and households bring to the campaign, and to them we would like to extend a very heart-felt thank you.

Trick or Eat is often the first step many individuals take in addressing food problems on their campus and in their community, and we hope to stay in touch with you throughout your journey. To find out more about the next steps you can take in improving your community food system, take a look at What We Do, and if you’d like to get involved or have any questions, get in touch with us at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

At the recent Change Toronto event, Professor Valerie Tarasuk of the PROOF Network managed to captivate the room with her passionate and assured opening keynote which covered recent research on household food insecurity in the GTA. The event also included breakout workshops and a panel discussion moderated by Carolyn Young of Sustain Ontario and featured Ayal Dinner of West End Food Co-Op, Gail Nyberg of the Daily Bread Food Bank, and Victoria Armit of East Scarborough Storefront who all provided great insight into the community work and impact of their organizations within Toronto. (Notes from the event sessions will be available online in the coming weeks.)

This was a fantastic event that showcased amazing speakers, but I would like to focus on Valerie’s presentation in particular as it was so closely related to my most recent read-through of the report, “Who’s Hungry - A Tale of Three Cities” by the Daily Bread Food Bank. What made Professor Tarasuk’s presentation so interesting wasn’t the shocking numbers and statistics, but her observations of what those statistics mean from a sociological perspective. 61% of those experiencing household food insecurity are reliant on employment income. Valerie adds to this statistic by stating that raising minimum wage by 50 cents or a dollar will not fix this issue because the problem is that people people are underemployed and evidence shows the way to make it out of severe food insecurity (described as people who go a full day without food) comes from larger jumps in income. She highlights the model of Newfoundland's poverty reduction strategy which launched in 2006 as the only provincial strategy that has made any significant impact and encourages us to seek similar buy-in from other provincial governments.  

The entire presentation was extremely informative but some key highlights include the following:

  • 39% of food insecure Canadians live in Ontario and half of that in Toronto.
  • 557,00 adults and 104, 800 children live in food insecure households in the GTA 2011-2012
  • 16% of the food insecure are on social assistance. People in this situation have no financial cushion. Any unexpected expenses causes them to suffer.
  • 50% of all women experiencing severe food insecurity also experience anxiety and depression.
  • Impact of Ontario’s poverty reduction strategy has been non-existent. Don’t be diluted when provincial governments introduce a strategy, be critical of what is being proposed.

The message stressed throughout the morning session was that we as community organizations must realize we cannot fix this problem ourselves . Professor Tarasuk made a compelling comparison to the SARS epidemic, which saw communities look to our government to intervene with new health policies, short term and long term strategies to eliminate the health threat and ensure it didn’t return. Valerie went on to state that it is absurd to think that the issue of hunger, which is much larger than SARS can be achieved solely by community-based initiatives.

As a community organization, we’re still doing things right. Valerie emphasises that we must continue to advocate for policy change and design our programs so that the people who need them most (those with jobs, health problems, children, low income etc.) can all be involved. Organizations must continue to service those in dire straits and strive to make an impact.

This does beg the question of how much political advocacy can really be done by charitable organizations like Meal Exchange, as by CRA standards - only 10% of resources can be allocated to political activity, which can include advocacy for changes in public policy. Regardless, the Daily Bread Food Bank report and event held by Change Toronto, have left me with much to think about. As the food movement continues to grow on a national and international scale, it’s important to keep a local perspective and understanding of the issues in one’s own province, city, and neighbourhood.

Tagged in: GTA Hunger Statistics

Staff at Meal Exchange have been reviewing the Daily Bread Food Bank, “Who’s Hungry – A Tale of Three Cities” which profiles hunger in the city of Toronto and surrounding areas known as the GTA. As an organization with a national office based in Toronto, this report shines a spotlight on an area of Canada that many at Meal Exchange consider home.

Over the past week I’ve had the opportunity to read through this report and supplement my learning by attending a full day event hosted by Change Toronto entitled, “Hunger in Toronto - How to Improve Food Security” which saw a number of respected Food Security leaders speak to the growing issues of hunger in Toronto. Setting the tone for the event was keynote speaker Professor Valerie Tarasuk of the PROOF network who spoke to recent findings from local-based research studies done on household food insecurity in Ontario and the city of Toronto.

Who’s Hungry – A Tale of Three Cities

A Tale of Three Cities is a report that does not shy away from the fact that focusing on Food Bank usage as a means to measure hunger in the GTA is representative of only a portion of the population that is actually experiencing it. The report expresses a clear purpose which is to go beyond the numbers and begin understanding who needs to access food banks and why.The results may not paint the entire picture of hunger, but they do provide insight into overarching issues of an economic and social divide among citizens in the GTA.

Here are a few highlights that help drive the report:

  • 1.1 million people visited a food bank in the GTA between April 2012 - March 2013
  • Areas outside the city core (905 and inner suburban areas) are seeing increases in food bank usage. The trend of poverty moving outwards from the city center is attributed to –
    • A decrease in average income of over 20% throughout inner suburbs 1970-2005
    • The gentrification of neighborhoods
    • A decrease in affordable housing downtown and more affordable rental option in outlying areas
  • More women are accessing food banks compared to 2008 before the recession. There is a 4% spike in 45-64 year olds since 2008 and an increase of 3% for both post-secondary students and graduates.
  • People go hungry typically due to lack of money. In today's society, spending 30% of income on rent and utilities is considered affordable. Food bank users on average spend 73% of income on rent.
  • Neither "Ontario Works" nor "Ontario Disability Support Program" are indexed to the cost of living. In 1995, welfare rates were cut by 21.5% and only raised in small increments since. To bring the income of a single person receiving social assistance back to where it was before and indexed to inflation would require a 60% increase in social assistance rates.

The stigmas attached to food bank users are being proven extremely inaccurate. These are diverse groups of people who find themselves in similar situations - people transition to a new country, an aging demographic contending with disabilities or illness, people simply struggling with the rising costs of basic needs regardless of whether their income comes from social assistance or from employment.

Ultimately, what this report is calling for is an income security system that helps people pay rent and buy food no matter the state of economic system. This is an extremely important ask, as poverty and hunger are two issues that are so closely related.

Join us tomorrow for the second half of this series on Hunger and Food Security in the GTA, which features Greg’s comments on the recent event hosted by Change Toronto, “Hunger in Toronto - How to Improve Food Security”

Tagged in: GTA Hunger Statistics

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It’s October 31st, which means it’s time for Trick or Eat!


This year marks the 14th year of students, youth, and community groups dressing up and going door-to-door to raise food and funds to support their local food bank or community food agency.

This year’s campaign promises to be the biggest yet. We have an amazing 105 campaigns across Canada, the US, and Australia (!). Our goal is to collect $550,000 worth of food donations, and $50,000 in online donations. To thank all our Trick or Eaters, we also have a great selection of prizes this year, including two WestJet tickets to one lucky fundraiser.

We know our Trick or Eaters are going to do their best to collect lots of food tonight, but we need your help to reach our fundraising goal of $50,000.

A donation of just $10 allows us to to provide ten meals through one of the 75+ food banks that Trick or Eat supports. We do this through a donation directly to the food bank and by providing year-round support through our Chapter Network to run programs to address food security issues across Canada. Trick or Eat donations will be accepted until November 9th.

The Meal Exchange staff team will be in office until the west coast campaigns wrap up tongiht to provide support to campaigns across the country, share updates on social media, and share unofficial results with everyone. Add your voice to the conversation by using #TrickorEat2013 on Twitter and Instagram, or following Meal Exchange on Facebook or Twitter.

We hope your Trick or Eat is spooktacular!