Meal Exchange Offers Free Transportation to Grocery Stores

Grocery Bus pilot project tackles food insecurity at Lakehead University

By: Rob Strachan, SFC Coordinator

You may have heard that food insecurity is a major issue for students at Lakehead University in Thunder Bay, and this is no surprise to the dedicated and hardworking people that seek to tackle this issue. For those that may not know, food insecurity means something different than starving or impoverished. Simply, food insecurity is not knowing where your next meal is coming from. Broadly, it can mean that, even though you’re eating a solid meal every day, that meal is not nutritionally or culturally adequate. For example, if you grew up in Canada eating steak and mashed potatoes, and you went to school in Japan, you may not find natto, a Japanese delicacy of fermented beans, culturally appropriate – and this would impact your ability to study and get the grades necessary for your career aspirations.

In 2016, a Toronto based charity called Meal Exchange launched the Hungry for Knowledge survey which found that 39% of post-secondary students across five Canadian campuses experience food insecurity, with an astounding 8.3% experiencing severe food insecurity. In response to student and stakeholder action on this issue, and with support from the Maple Leaf Centre for Action on Food Security, Meal Exchange launched the Students Feeding Change (SFC) project. They have been working to facilitate programs in Thunder Bay with the goal of supporting food security, access to education, and well-being among all students. To address these issues, the SFC project launched a series of social innovation labs that sought to uncover what students considered to be the most important challenges affecting their ability to get nutritionally adequate and culturally appropriate food. One of these challenges was transportation to and from grocery stores.

From October to December of 2018, the Grocery Bus pilot project, in partnership with the Thunder Bay and Area Food Strategy Committee, transported more than 47 students from Lakehead University, including the Bora Laskin Law school to Walmart Supercenter, Superstore, and the Thunder Bay Country Market, with the generous support of the Lakehead University Student Union (LUSU). Some preliminary findings from this pilot were that a large majority (>70%) of students cited lack of money, lack of transportation, lack of time, and lack of skills as some of the primary barriers to healthy food. After using the grocery bus service, most students state that they were able to acquire at least one week’s worth of food. These findings are inspiring, and further demonstrate that instead of relying on the overpriced and heavily processed foods available on campus, by giving students the means of getting their own foods, we can all be closer to realizing a truly food secure campus at Lakehead University.