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A group of students is working on a new initiative to donate unused meal swipes to help the hungry in Morningside Heights.

Forget meat and mozzarella sticks—a group of students is looking for a new way to use unused meal swipes.

Swipes for Change—organized by Benjamin Schechner, CC '15, Abby Porter, CC '17, and Daniela Quintanilla, CC '14 and a Spectrum blogger—would allow students to donate a day's worth of meal swipes each semester to help end hunger in Morningside Heights.

“Homelessness and hunger are a tangible thing to students here—you walk down Broadway or Amsterdam and you can see them happening,” said Porter, who also sits on the Columbia College Student Council dining committee. “The problem needs to be addressed and we think we can do a lot to really impact this area.” 

Quintanilla, Schechner, and Porter were inspired to start the project after reading a Spectator op-ed by Allie O'Keefe, CC '17 and a Spectator opinion associate, who advocated donating unused meal swipes to help feed the homeless, and reached out to O'Keefe to work on developing a plan.

“We realized that we had both posted it and were both interested in it, and decided to get together and do something,” said Schechner, the president of Columbia's chapter of FeelGood, a student-run nonprofit that sells grilled cheese sandwiches and donates the proceeds to the the Hunger Project and CHOICE Humanitarian, two non-profits that aim to end world hunger.

Porter, Schechner, and Quintanilla said they are trying to gauge possible student involvement via an online questionnaire, which has already garnered 250 responses. If enough people register interest, the group hopes to meet with Dining in early April to discuss logistics and even organize the first donation day by the end of the semester. 

Depending on the number of students who opt into the program, the group hopes to work with Dining to donate the amount of food corresponding to a day's worth of meals to a local food pantry, soup kitchen, or homeless shelter.

In her op-ed, O'Keefe said that first years with a required meal plan of either 15 or 19 meal plans a week would be unlikely to be affected by donating one meal swipe.

“I'm from a very small town in New Hampshire, and coming here, homelessness was something that struck me as a very visible problem,” O'Keefe said. “At the same time, I was joking with my friends that I have so many meal swipes that I might as well just swipe people in from anywhere, and the two ideas kind of combined.” 

Swipes for Change is modeled on programs at other institutions. Once a semester for the past 30 years, Yale hosted a fast for the Yale Hunger and Homelessness Action Project, in which students volunteer to sacrifice a meal swipe on a predetermined day. Yale Dining makes correspondingly less food on that day and donates the amount of the unused swipes to charities that support the homeless. USC and the Claremont Colleges in California have similar projects.

Even if the project doesn't get off the ground this semester, Porter and Schechner said they are finding ways to educate the Columbia community on hunger in the area and are hoping to run a canned foods drive later this semester.

“This is something students can do easily without changing their lifestyle, and it's also not going to impact dining in major ways,” Schechner said. “It's a really simple change that will really help our community.”  |  @ebbogz

Correction: An earlier version of this story said that O'Keefe was one of the project's coordinators. Spectator regrets the error.

FeelGood columbia dining meal plan hunger homelessness
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