Full plate of need faces Western Meal Exchange

By Paul Mayne
October 16, 2013

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Meal exchangePaul Mayne, Western News

Third-year students Imama Omer, left, and Jillian Macklin are doing their part to make sure fewer Londoners go hungry through Western Meal Exchange. By providing student volunteers with the knowledge, resources and support to work within the community, they hope s to increase access to healthy, sustainable food in the London community.

Fortunately, Imama Omer and Jillian Macklin have never experienced true hunger pangs. But that’s not stopping the third-year students from ensuring those in the London community don’t have to go hungry.

As co-presidents of Western Meal Exchange, the pair provides more than 150 student volunteers with the support to work within the community, and on campus, to increase access to healthy, sustainable food. Western is one of many chapters across the country, part of the Toronto-based charity that has generated donations of more than $3 million worth of food and funds since 1993.

This past year, Western Meal Exchange won chapter of the year.

“One of the big things is we not only target the Western community, but the London community as well. Our outreach program has a lot of students and members going to the London Food Bank and local soup kitchens on a regular basis,” Omer said.

Meal Exchange is about ‘hunger problems, student solutions’ – whether through a national food drive, food security workshops, community kitchens and gardens, or by organizing campus stakeholders to help bring more local food to campus. Through programs such as Skip a Meal or Clear the Shelves, Western Meal Exchange is a bridge connecting student volunteers and the food movement in Canada.

With Halloween around the corner, Omer and Macklin are preparing for Trick or Eat, the program’s largest food drive. Western student volunteers will once again be going door-to-door Oct. 31 to collect non-perishable food items.

“We’ll be in full costume, alright. We have a lot of fun with it, and it’s such a great cause,” Jacklin said. The group collected close to 3,000 pounds of food for the London Food Bank.

Omer added there is a lot a work and organization that goes into running Western Meal Exchange, but the payoff is well worth the effort.

“For me, it’s when you go to the food bank or a homeless shelter, you can actually see the difference you’re making through interacting with the people and getting to understand what we’re doing is important,” Omer said. “I remember going to Ark Aid Mission for the first time through the program. It was one of the most awakening trips you can take. I went back on my own, and now I go weekly.”

It’s that “first-person interaction,” she added, that makes her want to connect with staff and clients on a deeper level.

While a majority of the work for Western Meal Exchange is off campus, some students struggle. “We can even put food, secretly, in the lockers of the students,” said Macklin, who works with Student Support Services in this regard.

In the end, the two hope to create awareness of the plight of those who go hungry on a daily basis, along with what Western Meal Exchange can do to combat that need.

“A lot of our work, I think, it also creating awareness about what we do,” Macklin said. “It’s something that can grow. We’re really motivated to make the group well known, so when we’re gone, it will still be going strong. Once you get going, it’s great to be part of.”

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FIND OUT MORE: Follow the Western Meal Exchange on Twitter @mx_western or Facebook at ‘Meal Exchange UWO.’


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