McGill, News, SSMU

SSMU Grocery Program combats food insecurity at McGill

In December 2022, the Students’ Society of McGill University (SSMU) ran a pilot version of its new Grocery Program, which aims to supply McGill students facing food insecurity with free, sustainably-sourced groceries once a semester. The pilot project was introduced as a trial run of the permanent Grocery Program, which SSMU hopes to fund through student fees.

“The pilot grocery program was implemented to determine and work through how a SSMU grocery program might operate, and to offer students some immediate relief while the long-term project is being developed,” SSMU President Risann Wright, who has championed the initiative, explained in an email to The McGill Tribune.

According to Wright, many students have asked for a program that would provide food for lower-income individuals on campus. 

“Other student unions in Quebec and across Canada have programs where they operate food banks, grocery voucher programs, or subsidized food pantries,” Wright wrote. “This is one contribution that the SSMU as an institution can make to the existing framework of support offered through the consistent work of student groups and services on campus.” 

Wright added that the pilot program ran smoothly and received positive feedback from both participants and volunteers. Additionally, the Dec. 12 and 13 registration event saw all 200 spots filled, indicating high demand for the program among McGill community members.

The Tribune was not given a definitive date for when the Grocery Program will recommence, as SSMU must acquire the funds to continue the program in the long term. Wright plans to introduce an opt-outable fee that students can vote on at the Winter 2023 referendum.

“Ultimately, if this question goes to students and it is passed, a long-term project can be funded,” Wright wrote. “The hope is that a long-term program would offer either staple groceries or grocery vouchers to students on a semesterly basis, with an eye to expansion as capacity allows.”  

At the Feb. 9 SSMU Legislative Council meeting, councillors formally adopted the SSMU Grocery Program Policy and approved a Winter 2023 referendum question that will ask students whether they are in favour of a $1 opt-outable fee that would fund the program through Winter 2028. The Grocery Program Policy outlines the semesterly initiative, reaffirms SSMU’s dedication to sustainability and equity, and clarifies that the program’s budget will be dependent on how many students choose to pay the fee if its creation is approved. 

Before the Grocery Program was introduced, Midnight Kitchen—a student-funded non-profit collective dedicated to combating food insecurity—was consulted to discuss operations such as the quantity of grocery vouchers and how to best distribute them. Midnight Kitchen runs a free lunch program that provides vegan, nut-free meals several Thursdays a month to students on campus. 

Food insecurity is a major problem at McGill, especially due to current inflation rates. According to an educational video on Midnight Kitchen’s Instagram, approximately 60 per cent of students experienced food insecurity in Fall 2021. 

“More and more students are forced to choose less nutritionally dense meals, which in turn affects their academic success,” wrote a representative from Midnight Kitchen in an email to the //Tribune//.The options for free, healthy, and culturally appropriate food on campus are slim to none. Having this program give[s] students more money to buy their meals or groceries, [and] will help alleviate some of the effects of food insecurity on campus.”

One former McGill student, who wished to remain anonymous, told the Tribune that they believe initiatives towards fighting hunger on campus are vital resources. 

“Midnight Kitchen and their food pantries were lifesavers when I was a food insecure, single mom PhD student,” they said. “No McGill student should be food insecure.”

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