Em Heppler subsisted on Mr. Noodles every day during his first year of university.
While some may think a diet of high sodium, cheap ramen is a rite of passage for the starving student trying to keep a budget in balance, Heppler and a group of fellow student volunteers are hungry to change that mindset.
They’re doing it by helping time- and cash-strapped students with grocery shopping, hitting up the stores with cheapest produce, cereal and international foods. The result is fridges full of the makings of healthy meals, though they won’t deny anyone with a Mr. Noodles craving either.
“It can be quite difficult for students,” Heppler said about making a regular grocery run. “A lot are moving away from home for the first time. They’re used to a well-stocked kitchen and a food support network, and the reminders to eat veggies more than once a term.”
The initiative is part of the revamped Fed Up: The Affordable Food Project for Brock Students. Fed Up, which is a non-profit organization, offers three options for students to do their groceries, including providing their shopping lists to volunteers, then picking up food orders on campus, grocery store-to-door delivery or free carpooling to the store for students to do their own shopping.
Given Brock’s unique location atop the escarpment and not close to grocery stores, Heppler said Fed Up is about making food shopping as easy on students as possible.
Students can spend as much, if not more, on food than tuition by relying on campus offerings or going only to the closest supermarket, which may not be the cheapest or have the best selection, he noted.
“We’re sort of on our own island up here,” Heppler said. “Getting groceries, even if (a store) was close, it’s difficult to get there. You may have to take a cab or bus and it can be expensive to get there and back.”
It can also be time consuming and stressful when mid-terms, papers and finals are demanding students’ attention.
Heppler and the Fed Up crew are currently running the program as a pilot but plan to launch it officially in January, starting with 50 students and weekly shopping trips.
Students who choose to have volunteers shop for them must pay upfront for their grocery orders. But Heppler promises if they want cauliflower or Count Chocula, volunteers will shop at the cheapest locations, no matter how many stores they have to visit to get the job done. And no one is judging anyone’s shopping list.
“We’re trying to make eating healthy and affordably as easy as possible. We’re trying to make it as easy as being at home,” Heppler said.
“Food makes the day. If you come home and there is food in the fridge, it’s so much better than coming home and seeing just a jar of pickles in the fridge.”