Relieving food insecurity with Swipe Out Hunger

When you go to your next class, take a look at the people sitting around you. Odds are likely that somebody in your class is currently experiencing food insecurity. Food insecurity is a lack of consistent access to enough food needed to live a healthy life and is usually caused by financial constraints. Along with food, some individuals also face basic needs insecurity, lacking adequate water, shelter and safety. About 32% of West Chester University students are food insecure, which is slightly under the national average for four-year colleges. Students are especially susceptible to some form of insecurity due to the financial pressures of tuition, rent and other costs.

About 32% of West Chester University students are food insecure, which is slightly under the national average for four-year colleges.

Temple University’s Hope Center for College, Community and Justice reported in a 2019 study that 45% of 86,000 student respondents from over 100 institutions experienced some level of food insecurity. Many students facing food insecurity are employed and receive financial aid. Insecurity can be felt in a range of severity. 42% of student respondents to the Hope Center study reported low to very low (but still present) insecurity while 44% reported high food insecurity. In addition, African American, Hispanic and first-generation student populations feel basic needs insecurity more strongly than others. WCU is among the many colleges and universities with on campus food/resource pantries implemented in reaction to the growing number of insecure students. Pantry assistance can only go so far though, especially when they rely completely on donations and grants like the WCU Resource Pantry does.

There are numerous factors that go into food and basic needs insecurity. Many insecure students cannot benefit from federal assistance programs like the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program because they do not meet the requirements. There are also students dealing with homelessness or who have aged out of the foster care system. Poverty, child care and lack of familial support are other contributing factors. With the continuous and exorbitant rise in cost of tuition and rent, financial aid repeatedly falls short in providing enough aid to cover educational costs let alone basic needs costs. The insecurity students feel at many levels then becomes an educational barrier.

To deal with the rising cost of college, many students take on part-time or full-time jobs while attending classes. The Hope Center study results showed that the majority of food and housing insecure students are working anywhere from a few hours to 30+ hours per week. The time spent working to cover the costs of tuition and basic costs is less time available for studying and extracurricular activities or internships. Moreover, food insecure students attend work, classes and extracurricular activities while combating a certain level of hunger.

In addition to pantries and community cupboards, Swipe Out Hunger is becoming another popular program being implemented onto college campuses. Founded in 2010 at UCLA, Swipe Out Hunger has become a major resource to combat hunger among college students. Students can donate their extra meal swipes to other students on campus, creating a meal share network. Swipe Out Hunger also fights for anti-hunger legislation, SNAP outreach and the reduction of student hunger stigma. Their program has served about 1.7 million meals to date. They have grown out of UCLA, amassing 85 university partners, soon to be 86 when West Chester institutes the program next semester.

Dr. Ashlie Delshad is an associate professor of political science and the faculty advisor of the South Campus Garden, which donates fresh produce to the WCU Resource Pantry throughout the year. Her and her students in PSC399: Food Politics have been working toward bringing Swipe Out Hunger to West Chester since the beginning of the semester. She described her food politics course as “examining food insecurity in the U.S. more broadly and in the developing world” in addition to the “political dynamics of policy making and how they inform the current set of food aid policies we have at the college, state, federal and international levels.” She began the process of implementing the swipe program over the summer, contacting Swipe Out Hunger for information as well as talking with campus administrators and Aramark, our food service provider.

In an update on the progress of the program, Dr. Delshad said, “Our goal is for swipes to start being donated next semester and to have them start being distributed fall 2020.

In an update on the progress of the program, Dr. Delshad said, “Our goal is for swipes to start being donated next semester and to have them start being distributed fall 2020. However, we still have work to do in determining what number of swipes can be donated without the university or food service provider experiencing an economic impact. We are working with university administrators to determine these details. . . I am confident that WCU will find a way to tailor the program to accommodate any financial constraints we have.”

She also commented on some actions the government could take to relieve food insecurity.

“Most directly, the government should make SNAP accessible to college students and extend free and reduced meals from K-12 schooling to higher education. More broadly, food insecurity is a symptom of economic inequality, the rising cost of higher education and the diminishing amount of federal aid available to low income students. Governments should be tackling these issues in many ways including: increasing the minimum wage to a living wage, subsidizing the cost of higher education and increasing aid to low income students. . . . This problem is so deeply intertwined with broader economic inequalities that there is no one silver bullet solutions, we need a tool box with a variety of options to meet the varied basic needs of our diverse student population.”

In the coming months, students will be able to have Swipe Out Hunger as an additional resource to combat food and basic needs insecurity. One of the major attractions of the swipe program is that it allows struggling students to participate in the social activity of going to the dining hall, while ensuring that students have access to nutritious food. Stigma surrounding food insecurity is also decreased with meal sharing since the donated meals are transferred to students’ ID cards allowing them to directly swipe into the dining hall. Meal swipe sharing promotes a collaborative campus, allowing students the opportunity to help their peers as well.

WCU students can learn more about resources available to them by visiting the Resource Pantry in Commonwealth Hall.

Maria Marabito is a third-year English major with a minor in literature. MM883631@wcupa.edu

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