Category Archives: Alycia
Calgary Meal Exchange Mentor
Looking Back & Looking Ahead: A (not so) Brief History of Meal Exchange at the University of Calgary
I always find September to be an exciting time of year. It is a time for new things. A new school year. New classes. New books. New friends. New opportunities. For us, it also means a new year for Meal Exchange at the University of Calgary. This year, we (and by “we” I mean the MX team at the UofC who I still associate with because I so desperately want to be involved with all the amazing things that they do and the amazing strong leaders that they are) have an exciting year planned including the THIRD annual Trick or Eat, the SECOND annual Hunger Week, several Days of Service and some other fun things that you will just have to wait to find out about. But before we get to that, I thought I would share with you a bit about the history of Meal Exchange at the UofC and some of the things we have accomplished for all those people who are just starting to find out about us.
I started this blog post with the intention that I would give a brief overview of the history of Meal Exchange at the UofC is because it is just that; brief. Despite Meal Exchange having its roots at Wilfred Laurier University in 1993 with a student named Rahul Raj, Meal Exchange has only been at the UofC since the Fall of 2009. I know that we have managed to accomplish a lot in such a short period of time and I still find it hard that we are only going into our third year, but I still had this apparently misguided idea that I could incorporate two years into a few paragraphs and be done with it. For those of you who were hoping to read that condensed version, I apologize but you will have to get the Cole’s notes version from someone else. I found that I have been so fortunate to be part of so many amazing experiences and work with unbelievable, inspirational leaders that I had to gush a little bit, well ok, a lot, about them. I also may shamelessly plug a few other programs offered by the UofC which I feel strongly about, but they are also awesome and therefore related.
So, grab yourself a cup of fair trade tea or coffee. Make yourself a snack using locally sourced ingredients and get comfortable. Here we go…
My earliest memory of Meal Exchange at the UofC was in April 2009. I was in my fourth (though not final) year of University and looking for some sort of meaningful opportunity I could be involved with in my upcoming final year of school. During my first year of university, I was concerned about transitioning/workload/life etc so didn’t really get involved in anything except for Project Serve (now called Calgary Serves) a week long service-learning project that takes place over Reading Week. I knew I wasn’t going to spend Reading Week actually reading, so I thought I may as well do something that seemed worthwhile at a time when I knew I wouldn’t have anything else to worry about. I was extremely intimidated at the information session because I was one of the few students in their first year, and was possibly the only student who wasn’t a Chancellor’s Club scholar or involved in ten other things. Somehow I got accepted into the program, and I am so thankful that I was because it became a turning point not only in my University career, but my life in general. It was such an unbelievable experience. I met amazing people and learned more in that week that I think I did all year and most importantly, it changed the way I thought about myself and about the world around me. Anyway, this is supposed to be about Meal Exchange, so I will stop talking about Calgary Serves and leave you to check out the program on-line or attend one of the info sessions.
As I was saying, I was involved in Project Serve/Calgary Serves during my first year, did it again as well as several other programs in my second year, then I went on a year exchange in my third year through CISSA (Centre for International Students & Study Abroad) (which if you have the resources to do, I would highly recommend. It doesn’t have to be a year, but any of their programs are amazing!) and then my fourth year was mostly spent re-adjusting to life in Canada, completing all my core courses while I still had friends in school who could be my study partners and working to make back all the money I had spent abroad. At the end of the year, I realized that something was missing. I had missed out on being involved and all the benefits that come along with that, so I wandered up to the 4th floor of Mac Hall to find out how I could get involved in what I was hoping would be my final year of University. That fateful day, I met Erin Kaipainen. I didn’t know it at the time, but she would soon become an extremely influential and important part of my life. Erin told me about several peer helper roles that she had but then, saving the best for last, almost like it was a really good secret, she told me she was looking for a special person to start and coordinate a chapter of this thing called Meal Exchange. Honestly, I had never hear of Meal Exchange, but Erin had been a mentor for the chapter at Carleton University in Ottawa before coming to Calgary. Erin talked about how great of a program it was and how she really wanted to start a chapter at the UofC and was looking for a student to take the lead. Erin gave me her card and told me to be in touch. That night, I went straight home, turned on my computer to figure out what this “Meal Exchange” actually was. Their website told me that they are “a national student-founded, youth-driven, registered charity organized to address local hunger by mobilizing the talent and passion of students.” Well, that sounded good to me. I was a student and “youth” and I don’t think that anyone should have to be hungry, so sounded great. It also talked about “food security” which I didn’t really know what that was, but I figured it had to be something about being secure with your food or something like that, and, quite honestly, I love food, so really, that had to be good enough right?
Now, the problem was, I only needed 3 more classes to graduate, so I wasn’t really sure if I was going to be a student for the whole year, which Erin said she preferred. So I thought about it over the summer while I did a Food & Culture group travel study to Spain and then took a Sociology of Food class and realized that I am crazy about food and this was something I needed to do. I e-mailed Erin not sure whether or not the position would still be available and sure enough it was. I did an interview and I got the position! I was so excited and overjoyed and slightly terrified, but mostly excited. First thing on the agenda was this thing called Trick or Eat. Trick or Eat is a national campaign in which costumed students canvass their neighbourhoods for non-perishable food donations which is then donated to a local charity. It is Meal Exchange’s largest and most popular event. Somehow I was supposed to plan, organize and execute this event with no idea what it was supposed to look like and no experience in large scale event planning. Thankfully, I am slightly crazy and possibly overly optimistic and didn’t let any of that phase me. With Erin’s support, I jumped right into planning and trying to recruit anyone who was willing to help me to make this event happen.
Thankfully, Erin had been part of Trick or Eat (TOE) before and had a much better idea of what she was doing then I did. She sat me down and told me that it was important to set a realistic goal. Erin told me she thought that if we could get 30-40 participants that would be a successful first year. I agreed and set our fundraising goal to $500 which I thought was a little far fetched, but better to shoot high right? I don’t think either of us could have been prepared for what would happen next.
The fundraising goal of $500 was broken within the first few weeks and more participants were joining everyday. Erin and I became addicted. We would check the registration website multiple times a day, well hour really, ok fine. It was like every 5 minutes but that is beside the point. We would get excited every time we had another participant or another dollar. Neither of us were prepared for Kristen, who was a fundraising Queen and would be one of the top fundraisers in Canada, raising over $2000 herself! I soon gave up increasing the fundraising goal when her dollars started pouring in. I was also not prepared, and still dumbfounded to this day, how people found out about TOE and decided to get involved.
On October 28th (three days before Halloween) we had 56 participants registered and over $2800 raised. I was blown away! THEN, somehow, by Halloween we had 90, yup ninety, 9 – 0 participants registered!! I didn’t even think I knew 90 people! How on earth did I get 90 people interested and participating in something that I organized? Somehow it happened and we collected 2070 pounds of food and raised (with much help from Kristen) $4168.83! I could not believe it! Standing on a desk in the middle of the room doing my little intro speech to Trick or Eat I tried to let my shock come out as excitement/pride/happiness. It was truly incredible. Somehow all of these people, most of whom I didn’t even know, came out of the woodwork to make it happen. I had a solid group of friends that I roped into participating (including my younger brother who had just gotten back into town that afternoon) there were a couple of random people I went to jr. high with, Kristen who I met at a conference, a few people from residence who donated food, an awesome co-worker that I told who thought it was such a neat idea he helped to coordinate a food drive at our staff Halloween party which went toward our final total, local media and a bunch of other amazing people. To this day, I am still dumfounded at how it actually happened and sometimes think it has to just be a dream. There is a quote that goes “some of the greatest achievements are made by people too stupid to know they are impossible” which I think truly applies to this situation and much of what I have done. I had no idea what I was doing planning Trick or Eat and some how it turned out to be bigger and better than I ever thought possible.
The year progressed and so did we. Our tiny MX chapter grew to be between 2-6 people at different times of the year. We participated in CP Rail’s Holiday Train (I even got to go on stage and present a giant cheque to the Calgary Inter-Faith Food Bank from the money we raised during Trick or Eat) hosted two Days of Service in which small groups of students went to Brown Baggin It for Calgary’s Kids to make sandwiches and the other to the Calgary Inter-Faith Food Bank where the group packed Easter treat bags for the emergency hampers. Our final big event, 24.4.Hunger, was organized by my fellow dedicated MX exec, Alanna and was a 24 hour famine. There were 11 students who participated in the 24 hour famine, and learned about local hunger while playing Food Security Jeopardy, listening to a presentation by Brown Baggin It for Calgary’s Kids (for which we raised $2090!) and having a sandwich making relay. It was a tonne of fun and not eating for 24 hours really made the amazing BLTs from the District taste all that more delicious.
The craziest part of the whole year was attending Meal Exchange’s National conference in Toronto in August 2010 with Jenna & Stephanie, who would be taking over as coordinators since I was graduating, and being awarded with Meal Exchange Chapter of the Year Award! Kim- Meal Exchange’s Program Director at the time, presented the award and spoke a bit about the chapter and it’s accomplishments before announcing the name. As I listened, I was quite impressed with what the chapter had done and it was not until just before she announced “University of Calgary” that I actually clued in and realized it was us! It was such a surreal moment. I was surprised because I thought I had just been doing what I was supposed to as a Chapter Coordinator and knew that our Trick or Eat was nothing like that of Guelph (they are the Canadian champs and have over 1000 participants every year!) and somehow we were being recognized as Chapter of the Year. I don’t know if my smile was bigger walking across the stage at my convocation ceremony or accepting that award. I was so proud of all that our small chapter had accomplished and so thankful of all the support we had received and SO thankful that I had gone looking for something to be involved in and somehow found Erin and Meal Exchange.
It was kind of funny because I remember trying to convince Alanna to take on the Coordinator position after I graduated and she told me that she didn’t think she could do it because she didn’t have the experience. I remember asking her “what experience?” I confided in her that before Meal Exchange, I didn’t have any experience interviewing/recruiting/coordinating volunteers, planning/organizing/executing large scale events, communicating with media, hosting regular meetings etc and the list could go on an on. She didn’t believe me. I told her I spent the whole year flying by the seat of my pants. The expression “sink or swim” was true and I was doing my best to appear to be an expert swimmer when really I had never even been in water. I learned that sometimes the best way to learn is by doing and sometimes you have to set your fears aside, jump right in and give it your all because you just never know what you might be capable of accomplishing.
After graduation, I was fortunate enough to get a job at the Centre for Community-Engaged Learning at the UofC with Erin! (Just another benefit of getting involved: great networking opportunities) There are hundreds of reasons why I love this job (literally, I could start listing them all off right now) but one of the big ones is that I am fortunate enough to continue to work with Meal Exchange at the UofC. You have to understand, Calgary Meal Exchange is like my baby and I was not ready to give it up after just a year, so I am so thrilled that I get to continue to work with the MX as their mentor!
Last year, our team grew to 8 dedicated members- which was really 7+1/ semester! The first semester, we had Luis, an international exchange student from Mexico who joined us, participated in Trick or Eat and then returned to his home university and took what he learned to lead an extremely successful “Campbells: Let’s Can Hunger” campaign. We, or at least I, am so proud of him and the learning exchange that was able to happen while he was with us. After he left, I managed to convince Narisa, who was involved in one of my other programs, to join Meal Exchange and we are so thankful that she did! The energy and enthusiasm she brought to the team was unmatched!
Trick or Eat 2010 was even more unbelievable than 2009! I took what I learned during TOE 2009 and passed it along to Jenna, Stephanie and the team and prepared for an even bigger, better Trick or Eat. It sure was! We had over 220 participants registered, collected over 6300 pounds of food which went to both the Campus (yes, that’s right, we have a Food Bank on Campus!) and Calgary Inter-Faith Food Bank and raised over $2600.
In December, our team again participated in the Holiday Train and our super-star first year student leader Gayathri, lead a small group of students in a Day of Service to serve dinner at Inn From the Cold.
March 21-25 was possibly my favourite part of the 2010-2011 year! It was the first annual Hunger Week, a partnership with the Campus Food Bank and the Students’ Union which had been a dream of mine in the first year but I just couldn’t make it happen with the resources I had. Fortunately, my successors made it happen and I couldn’t have been happier! They did a phenomenal job! The week consisted of two “Lunch and Learn” sessions, StomachThis! – a MX peer education workshop on food security and food systems, a resource fair, Do It Yourself: Urban Gardening Workshop and…. The Hamper Project!
The Hamper Project saw 8 members from the UofC community – including faculty, staff, a Dino’s athlete, Gauntlet writer, SU executive, student volunteers and the Vice-Provost Students eat solely off the contents of a Campus Food Bank hamper and blog about their experience. I think it is safe to say it was an enlightening experience for everyone involved, from participants to readers, to the Campus Food Bank who even took some of the feedback to improve their services. Everyone learned about the stress involved in having to rely on emergency food, the all consuming thought of what to eat and the constant pains of hunger, but I think the most insightful message that I took away from the experience came from Lisa Stowe, Professor from the faculty of Communication and Culture, at the closing panel discussion. Lisa spoke about how there was a point during the week when she realized why it was called a Food Bank. Lisa put it very eloquently (although I am probably not going to get it as good as she put it) saying that a Food Bank is just that. A bank of food. Like a bank, when you are doing well, you contribute, but when you face rough times, it is ok to withdraw. There is so much stigma attached to asking for help, especially using a Food Bank in our society, but that really should not be the case because everyone needs a little helping hand once and a while. I thought it was a really great analogy and have thought of Food Banks like that ever since.
In April the school year ended, but that meant that summer was just beginning. The best thing about this summer was that Meal Exchange was granted eight summer students and Calgary was chosen to host a student! The day Dave (the ED of Meal Exchange) called me to tell me this news was like having a genie call you up and tell you one of wishes you didn’t even know you wanted had been granted. I was again thrilled, which is probably a bit of an understatement according to some witnesses. Anyway, because MX is based out of Toronto and being a mentor, I was the closest thing to MX representation in Calgary, I got to be the in-city supervisor for the lucky student. This lucky student was Zena. You all “met” Zena as she started this amazing blog and introduced you to some hot topics in the food world. Working toward a certificate in food security through Ryerson University, Zena brought a tremendous amount of knowledge and dedication to the position and I learned so much from her and maybe even found a new friend…
2010 was topped off for me by having the privilege of being on the planning committee for the National Student Food Summit. Esuiro – Meal Exchange’s national conference which I mentioned earlier was traditionally just for Meal Exchange members however this year was re-named to reflect the change in scope to incorporate all students from across the country who are working toward a more food secure Canada. Not only was it an unbelievable experience to work with MX chapter directors, a fellow mentor, MX board members and staff to make the conference happen, but the conference itself was incredible. The group was very diverse with undergrads to graduate students from BC to Newfoundland all of whom had different experiences working with food, sustainability and health. The ideas shared and exchanged during those three days were truly inspiring and I can’t wait to hear what all of the delegates will accomplish this coming year. It was such a special opportunity to have all of these amazing people in the same room, talking about food and as cliche as it may sound, providing hope for a better, more food secure future.
I hope you will join me in welcoming back: Stephanie, Jenna, Gayathri, Ines & Fatima and help me in welcoming Kevin (who will be joining Stephanie as Co-Coordinator this year after being involved with MX in the first year and then spending all of last year on an exchange followed by a food security related internship in Ghana) Katie, Kate, Parvathy, Nikytha & Steve!
We hope to see you at some of our events and you are always more than welcome to visit us in our home at the CCEL (4th Floor of MacEwan Student Centre, open Monday-Fridays 8:30-4:30). We love visitors, especially ones who are interested in Meal Exchange! So come visit, get involved and find your passion.
Calgary Meal Exchange Mentor