While it’s been an unusually quiet year in the dining halls and restaurants on the University of Guelph campus, the volunteers with MealCare Guelph have been as busy as ever.
Already this summer, they have managed to collect 1,270 pounds of campus-prepared food to donate to local Guelph charities, helping to feed hundreds in the area struggling with food insecurity.
“Summers tend to be quieter on the campus with fewer students and fewer events – this year especially – but we’ve still been donating two or three times a month, as well as initiating new ideas and preparing for this fall,” said MealCare Guelph’s new co-president, Sayan Ladhani.
Three years ago, MealCare Guelph was founded by U of G students to help ensure that leftover, still-edible food prepared in U of G kitchens wasn’t just sent to compost or landfill.
MealCare founders Kiana Gibson and David Sahai realized that donating food wasn’t simple. It required packaging food, labelling it with ingredients and storing it in fridges in accordance with public health guidelines. Volunteers then needed to coordinate with community service organizations to find out which were in need each week and arrange pickups.
The Guelph group got to work, modelling their organization after the original MealCare, founded in 2016 by students at McGill University. Though the Guelph arm started out small, it’s since grown and is now an accredited Central Student Association club with 22 volunteers, an executive and a member voting system.
In the last three years, the group has managed to donate more than 17,000 pounds of food to charitable organizations across the city.
Founders Gibson and Sahai retired earlier this year, and now Ladhani, a fifth-year environmental sciences student, has taken over leadership with Jessica Seifried, who is pursuing a master of science in nutritional and nutraceutical science.
In the spring, the group entered the David Suzuki Foundation Future Ground Prize competition, which celebrates Ontario projects and organizations that work to build a better future.
“There were so many wonderful entrants and we finished in the top 15 finalists among a pool of 135 projects,” said Ladhani. “We had so much support from the University community and local politicians and the whole experience gave MealCare a lot of great exposure.”
This fall, they’re expecting increased donations and will partner again with the Royal City Mission to coordinate donations. The Child Care and Learning Centre on campus will also continue to contribute, creating packaged meals to be donated to the city’s youth shelter, Wyndham House.
MealCare has also just launched a community fridge – an initiative that has grown in popularity across Canada in recent years, particularly with the pandemic worsening hunger and food insecurity for many.
The fridge sits in the University Centre concourse and will be filled with fresh and packaged foods that anyone in the University community can take from for free.
“It’s meant for those who are struggling to access healthy food. The idea is that it helps to reduce the stigma of food insecurity. There are no forms to fill out or questions to answer, you just come and take what you need,” said Ladhani.
The fridge was launched in the spring, but with lockdowns lifted and many more people expected back on campus in the fall, Ladhani expects demand will increase.
“We hope to receive donations from local grocery stores and restaurants, which our volunteers will use to keep the fridge stocked,” she said.
Finally, the team is looking forward to launching educational events, both on campus and virtually, to increase understanding about food insecurity and food waste issues and why initiatives like MealCare are so needed.
As Canada’s food university, the University of Guelph is shining a light on all the ways we are supporting and improving Canada’s food systems in celebration of Food Day Canada on July 31. Visit U of G’s Food Day Canada page to learn more.
Transcript for video below