When the Food Insecurity Solutions Working Group (FISWG) submitted their report in the spring of 2017 to Vice President and Dean for Student Life Suzy Nelson, one of its recommendations stood out: Open a low-cost grocery store on the MIT campus.
In order to learn more about best practices and to inform MIT’s approach, working group members visited colleges and universities with food banks or low-cost stores that make staple foods available to students. Earlier this month, MIT’s own store — an at-cost grocery for students named TechMart — opened on the second floor of Walker Memorial, sharing space with Rebecca’s Café. In an agreement with the Division of Student Life (DSL), Rebecca’s will operate the store.
“We are very excited to take another significant step in making MIT a food-secure campus,” says Nelson, who with members of the FISWG and staff from DSL helped to spearhead the creation of TechMart. “We have seen the success of similar programs at other schools, and I think TechMart will help to answer students’ requests for convenient, on-campus access to affordable groceries.”
Mark Hayes, director of campus dining, worked closely with students and David Randall, senior associate dean for student support and wellbeing, to get the store up and running this fall.
“I’m grateful to everyone involved for their creativity and focus,” Hayes says. “The students on the FISWG have been great partners, as has the team from Rebecca’s Café who stepped up to take on a unique responsibility in a thoughtful way. Together, we accomplished a lot in a short period of time.”
Randall, who helped to lead the FISWG, has seen TechMart go from idea to reality in less than a year.
“The working group convened last fall, and among the first things they did was look at other colleges and universities to see how they addressed campus food insecurity,” he says. “Other schools showed us that an affordable grocery store was an important part of their overall approach. The working group members made this a key recommendation, and DSL really got behind it. Now here we are, opening just six months after we finalized the report. It’s really exciting.”
TechMart is open to all MIT students and carries wide variety of foods, from fresh produce and proteins (meat and tofu) to spices and sauces, all sold at cost. For students who don’t have time to shop, Rebecca’s will continue to offer grab-and-go chef’s boxes packed with ingredients for two servings of a healthy entrée.
“I think it’s really cool. It’s very close; closer than where I usually go to shop, and it seems like the prices are pretty good,” says sophomore Bianca Wang-Polendo, who was among the shoppers when TechMart opened on Sept. 17. “A zucchini is 81 cents and other goods are fairly priced, much better I think than other places.”
While the TechMart pilot is an important step in fulfilling the FISWG recommendations, other proposed solutions are either already underway — including SwipeShare and cooking and budgeting classes — or under consideration.
“We are looking to implement as many of the FISWG’s recommendations as is feasible,” Randall says.
The TechMart store's hours are 3 p.m. to 11 p.m., Monday through Friday. The store accepts credit and debit cards, cash, TechCash, and dining dollars. Shoppers can share feedback about the store and product selection by leaving a comment card in the store or emailing firstname.lastname@example.org.