Guelph students planning to cycle across Canada for Meal Exchange are, from left: Jason Morgenstern, Joel Saunders, Tyler Valiquette and Caitlin Smith.

While millions of Canadians will be celebrating Canada Day on July 1, a group of Guelph students will begin cycling across the country to raise awareness of the 2.7 million Canadians who don’t know where their next meal is coming from. Starting in Victoria, B.C., the students will spend the next 60 days biking to St. John’s, Nfld., visiting local food programs along the way. They also hope to raise $50,000 for Meal Exchange, a nationwide student-run charity that targets hunger in Canada.

Since 1993, Canadian students have raised more than $3 million in cash and food for the organization.

Empowering students to make a difference is part of Meal Exchange’s appeal, says Jason Morgenstern, a third-year psychology student in the brain and cognition program. He works with the U of G chapter of Meal Exchange and says, “There’s no other hunger-fighting organization that has students as its central force.”

Last Halloween, 1,300 U of G students went door-to-door in the community, collecting more than 19,000 pounds of food worth about $85,000 as part of Meal Exchange’s Trick or Eat food drive. The food was donated to local food banks, shelters and community groups. Students also raised $18,859 last year through Skip a Meal, a program that encourages students to donate unused money from their meal plan.

Getting students involved in anti-hunger campaigns could inspire the next generation of leaders in the fight against hunger, says Morgenstern. “Students are going to be the future people in positions where they can help shape society.”

He says the rising cost of food is making it difficult for people to afford to feed themselves and their families. Higher oil prices increase the cost of producing and transporting food, which gets passed onto consumers. Growing demand for food and reduced supply due to crop failures are also contributing to sticker shock at the grocery store.

“It’s just going to keep going up, so the people who are already on the margins − single mothers, the elderly and young children, low-income and single-income families − are going to feel that stress even more,” says Caitlin Smith, a fourth-year international development student and the cycling group’s co-ordinator.

The students will keep their website updated with blog entries and videos. During their days off, they will visit food programs in local communities. “We want to investigate a variety of different initiatives that are addressing food insecurity, everything from school breakfast programs to community gardens and kitchens,” says Smith. “We can show what’s working and what isn’t and how the government can step in and support them.”

Hunger is often associated with developing countries, but the students say it’s a problem that can strike anyone, anywhere, anytime in Canada. More than 20,000 people used the Guelph Food Bank’s food programs in 2010; over half were children. Nationwide, almost 870,000 individuals accessed food banks each month in 2010, and children accounted for 38 per cent.

“The fact that it’s still a problem is mind-boggling, especially here in Canada,” says Tyler Valiquette, a fourth-year international development student.

Food banks can help people get through tough times, but offer a temporary solution for what can be a long-term problem. Those seeking assistance receive a three- to five-day supply of food once a month, up to six times a year.

“We know how effective a food bank can be, but we’re looking for unique Canadian food projects and how we can apply those to communities across the country,” says Valiquette. Joining him and Morgenstern on the bike trip will be third-year music student Joel Saunders.

To learn more about Canada Crossing or make a donation, visit