Come the end of an academic term, dorm-housed and dining hall-nourished college students face the “leftover meal points” dilemma. Because meal plans are usually included in housing contracts, every dining hall swipe for the term—whether used or unused—generally comes out of the individual’s pocket. For those with meals that roll over, the accumulated bounty of swipes can lead to an end-of-term food rush: students spending the last few days of the term milking the most out of their remaining points by going on snack shopping sprees, swiping into dining halls for pure indulgence (i.e. just to grab a ice cream cone), or feeding the hungry masses of upperclassmen eyeing the “free” feasts.—all to prevent those unused swipes from going to waste.
But students at UCLA have a more charitable option. A student group turned nonprofit organization called “Swipes for the Homeless
” has found a way to transform leftover meal points into a means of combating hunger in Los Angeles. Undergraduates who live off dining hall food can opt to donate their remaining swipes to hungry people in the neighborhood. Each swipe donated is equivalent to a meal, which includes bottled juice or water, a bow l of noodles, small fruit bowls, granola bars, chips, canned soup, and fruit.
“Students don’t just donate the meals to us. While they’re donating, we give them information about different ways that they can get involved both on- and off-campus,” says CEO and founder Bryan Pezeshki. “We’ve had a very positive effect in the community, and not just in terms of passing out the food. We spend time with homeless individuals and share meals with them.”
Since its inception in the fall of 2009, the organization dedicated to “Helping the Homeless One Meal Swipe at a Time” has distributed more than 20,000 pounds of food to the homeless living on the streets, shelters in the city, the UCLA Food Closet, and not-for-profit organizations like StandUp For Kids. The first food drive resulted in roughly 350 meals, but participation has skyrocketed: The latest food drive raised 7,300 meals. “Swipes” has also worked to raise campus awareness on hunger and homelessness issues by helping establish the Bruin Meal Voucher program, which offers fully subsidized dining hall meals for students struggling to make ends meet.
The organization has since turned into an international movement, with chapters at 12 different colleges and four more in the works. The White House’s Campus Champions of Change Challenge
has lauded “Swipes’” efforts as it continues to contact universities throughout the nation to alleviate the hunger and homelessness crises.
Photos courtesy of Bryan Pezeshki