Every Friday at the Rabbit Hole Café, McGill students can be found huddled over Tupperware in the eclectic basement of the Yellow Door, seated at packed tables under a sprinkling of fairy lights. Serving up vegan lunches out of 3625 rue Aylmer for a suggested donation of around $3, the Rabbit Hole Café has enjoyed a long history while staying true to its original mandate to foster community through food.
The café first began as part of the Food for Thought program funded by the McGill Office of Religious and Spiritual Life (MORSL). Within this program, the Rabbit Hole served food to accompany a Friday food bank that provided students with a free bi-weekly bag of groceries. The food bank, which has since ended, aimed to alleviate food insecurity and support students through financial difficulty. This compassionate approach toward community food provision has stayed within the café’s lifeblood in the years since, as the Rabbit Hole grew into a neighbourhood lunch staple that now draws consistent crowds. Despite recently losing funding, the café remains buoyed by a dedicated team of volunteers that continue the mission of offering students and Milton-Parc residents nutritious and affordable food. Menus are always vegan, often gluten-free, and stray away from common allergens in order to be accessible to a broad range of people.
Rabbit Hole co-coordinator Kathryn Slomski, U3 Arts, believes that the weekly lunch fosters a unique sense of community between students and Yellow Door members.
“A lot of people that come every week have been coming for a couple semesters or even a couple years, [so] you see familiar faces,” Slomski said. “It’s a good way to connect students and student volunteers with people outside the McGill community.”
Slomski, who is now entering her second year as a coordinator, started volunteering at the café as a way to bridge her interest in cooking and a desire to get involved with the community outside of McGill.
Co-coordinator and dietician Nadia Alayoubi joined Rabbit Hole after running Community Hours, a series of interactive presentations and discussions about nutrition for seniors at the Yellow Door. Following a stage, a mandatory internship for dieticians, at the McGill Health Centre, Alayoubi was inspired to combine her work with students and seniors to offer Rabbit Hole patrons holistic health support through dietetic consultations that translate nutrition science into practical advice.
“I’ve always kind of worked with this population,” Alayoubi said. “Since I live in the neighbourhood, [the Yellow Door and I] created a partnership, [so] I can provide some consultations here and do it at a reduced price to students [and community members].”
The Rabbit Hole Café is now one of the Yellow Door’s main programs and draws many students to the space for the first time. Kaitlin Fahey, the executive director of the Yellow Door, explained that the Rabbit Hole’s popularity with students has created a link between the café and other programming run by the community hub, including the Art Hive, the intergenerational reading group, and recurring yoga, woodcarving, and meditation events.
“[Many of the Yellow Door’s] volunteers are students, and it’s not usually the same students who come to the Rabbit Hole,” Fahey said. “It appeals to a different group, and we like that because it allows people who usually wouldn’t come through our doors to come for lunch, [where] they learn about our other programs and services.”
In the future, Fahey hopes to incorporate the centre’s backyard garden into the lunch service, to support a more sustainable food system and work in tandem with the café and dietetic consultations.
The Rabbit Hole Café serves vegan lunches every Friday during the school year from 12:30-2 p.m. on the first floor of the Yellow Door, at 3625 rue Aylmer. Students and community members interested in volunteering or seeking an inexpensive meal can keep updated on the Rabbit Hole’s Facebook page.