“Want to start a movement?”
That was the subject line for an email Roxanne Wright received from her friend and colleague Clare Gilderdale.
“I said, 'Yes, absolutely, what are we doing?'” says Wright, who is the experiential learning lead in the Faculty of Medicine's MD program.
Gilderdale, the alumni engagement liaison in the Faculty of Arts & Science, told Wright about her plan: mobilize students, faculty, alumni and staff across all University of Toronto campuses to donate Loblaw gift cards to campus food banks.
After admitting to a 14-year, price-fixing scheme, Loblaw announced they were offering customers a $25 gift card as a gesture of goodwill. Since the announcement, people have been taking to social media to encourage others to donate their gift cards to local food banks.
“We were thinking about how we can encourage people to do that,” says Gilderdale. “Bringing it to the campus creates a sense of community not only for our students, faculty and staff, but we've also included it in some alumni communications, encouraging people across the country who are eligible to think about how they might use them to do some good.”
“The impetus was basically, 'Let's make it super easy for people to follow through on this idea,'” Wright adds.
Gilderdale and Wright have set up a website where people can find information on how to sign up for a gift card and where to drop them off on campus. They encourage social media users to promote the initiative online using #SpreadTheBreadUofT.
The University of Toronto Students' Union Food Bank has already agreed to receive gift card donations. Gilderdale and Wright are also reaching out to the U of T Mississauga Students’ Union Food Centre and the SCSU Food Bank at U of T Scarborough.
“It's amazing,” says Terri Nikolaevsky, services coordinator at UTSU. “I am so grateful to have been contacted about it and to have UTSU help to make the campaign more successful. Whatever we can do to do that, we're on board.”
Nikolaevsky says around 50 to 75 students access the UTSU Food Bank every week. The service runs on Fridays from 12 to 3 p.m. out of the Multi-Faith Centre.
The #SpreadTheBreadUofT campaign is a reminder that food insecurity exists on campus but is often invisible, she says.
“We can all be sitting together in a room and we won't necessarily know which is a student in need and which is not the student in need,” says Nikolaevsky.
Dean of the Faculty of Arts & Science David Cameron supporting the #SpreadTheBreadUofT campaign
Beyond donating gift cards, Gilderdale says she’d like to see people advocate for change in their own communities.
The #SpreadTheBreadUofT website is a good place to start – it has a list of community organizations that are addressing food insecurity in the GTA.
“We want it to be about more than just giving a gift card or the equivalent to an organization,” says Gilderdale. “We also wanted to encourage a conversation around food insecurity and some of the systemic issues around that because obviously it's a huge problem.”