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Still frustrated about all your leftover meal swipes at the end of each semester? Now you can put them to good use.
Swipe Out Hunger, a national organization that combats food insecurity by encouraging college students to donate leftover meal swipes, will officially launch at Penn on Wednesday. From 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. students can pass by the Gourmet Grocer at 1920 Commons to donate up to two meal swipes to local nonprofit Philabundance. A second event is scheduled for April 28.
The program is a result of the efforts of College sophomores Liza Lansing and Jessica Abrams after they realized the extent of hunger in Philadelphia.
“A lot of people don’t understand what food insecurity actually is,” Abrams said. “Many of these people pay bills, rent and other expenses before realizing they won’t have enough left over for food.”
“We want to disentangle homelessness and hunger,” she added.
It was during their freshman year that Lansing and Abrams first heard about Swipe Out Hunger, which was founded at University of California, Los Angeles. The pair knew they wanted to bring the organization to Penn but struggled to find the proper channels to go through. They turned to their professor, Ira Harkavy, who is also the director of the Netter Center for Community Partnerships, to finally get the ball rolling.
“At first we couldn’t even get a meeting on our own ... We just didn’t know where to start,” Lansing said. “Dr. Harkavy really showed us how to navigate the Penn bureaucracy.”
But once they were underway, things started falling into place.
“We found out that Bon Appétit is actually a very proactive company when it comes to caring about and working with students,” Lansing said.
“The brilliance of the Swipes model is in its simplicity,” Jared Fenton, a College sophomore, said. Once a student donates their swipes, they can “choose either 5 or 10 food items that they would like to donate to hungry families in West Philadelphia,” he said.
Bon Appétit will partner with Philabundance to distribute the food to those in need. Philabundance is the largest nonprofit food bank in the Philadelphia/Delaware Valley area and provides assistance to around 75,000 people a week.
Lansing and Abrams are also encouraging students to take the “$4 Challenge.”This challenges students to live on the average federal Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) benefits a recipient receives. Penn students can also increase a beneficiary’s food assistance by more than double with a simple meal swipe donation.
“One swipe amounts to more than a day’s worth of an individual’s SNAP benefits,” said Lansing.
I grew up in a suburb of Chicago with a very wide range of socioeconomic diversity. In middle school and high school, I slowly realized how isolated I had been from the poverty and struggles people living just a few miles from me endured. However, a key experience increased my awareness of world hunger and my urge to do something to combat the problem.
In December 2011, my family traveled to India. It was my first trip, and I loved experiencing the culture firsthand and spending times with relatives. But I was also forced to confront the poverty and filth visible everywhere we went.
More than once, we had leftovers from our meals and no realistic way of keeping them, so my dad would walk or drive around looking for a poor person in need of food. One woman with a young daughter saw us later and gushed her gratefulness in Hindi. I wanted to do something to help these people. I just didn’t know where to start.
Then, the summer before my senior year of high school, my mom suggested our family volunteer at the local food pantry. Not knowing what to expect, but willing to give it a try, I went to the Saturday morning food distribution shift. Like my trip to India, this experience was eye-opening.
At my station, I offered pasta options to the steady stream of people. They ranged in age from teenagers to grandparents. Some had siblings or children with them; others came alone. Many didn’t have cars and faced a long bus ride or walk with heavy grocery bags. One man walked in wearing his bicycle helmet. Some of them showed up every month, while others would come just once or twice to help them through temporary unemployment.
The one thing that struck me was the atmosphere of genuine happiness and gratitude, regardless of people’s circumstances. That first morning, and every time I returned, several shoppers thanked the volunteers. One woman, when asked, “How are you?” answered, “I feel blessed.”
I return to this food pantry as much as possible when I’m home. It has been a wonderful way to turn my concern about starvation into making a small impact on our world. I’m excited to bring these experiences to Swipe Out Hunger.
I encourage everyone to think outside the Penn bubble for just a few minutes on March 25th – come to the Gourmet Grocer under 1920s Commons between 10 am and 4 pm to donate meal swipes, which will go toward food for Philadelphia soup kitchens, schools, and families.
As I walked into the Coalition Against Hunger for the first time, I immediately was greeted by staff members, their passion, and a list of statistics. Within in minutes of talking about possible volunteer opportunities, I was surprised by how little I knew about food insecurity.
Michael Ginder, the Community Resources Manager, took me out of the Penn bubble and introduced me to the entire city of Philadelphia. I learned that within Philly, one in four are at risk for hunger and that about 180,000 people in the city alone qualify for SNAP benefits but do not receive them.
That number, 180,000 was why I was there. Over the next few weeks I will complete my training to become a SNAP hotline operator and join the Coalition Against Hunger in one of their main missions, to assist people with the SNAP application process.
For those unfamiliar with SNAP, it stands for the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program and it is a federally funded program dedicated to alleviating hunger. SNAP benefits can be used to purchase cold foods and items like coffee, spices, and seeds in order to grow one’s own food. For an individual that qualifies, the minimum amount of benefits is $16 per month and the maximum amount is $194 per month (Coalition Against Hunger). For each additional member in the household, the maximum extra amount of benefits received is $146.
As I heard these amounts, I started doing some mental math, “146, is almost 150, then divide that by 30 days in a month, leaves you with, $5 per day.” I could easily spend that amount of money just on coffee and a snack, not even a full meal.
This is when Michael spoke to the other types of calls that I would be learning how to handle, people looking for food pantries in their area. He explained the monthly routine. During the first two weeks of the month, most calls will be about applying for benefits or questions about benefits received. However, in the latter half of the month, when most have gone through their benefits, people will call for information about nearby pantries and soup kitchens. Run by volunteers, these pantries often vary in the days and hours during which they are open, the demographic they will serve, and possible requirements the recipient will need to provide (such as a referral).
As I concluded my first meeting with Michael and left the Coalition, I realized that it would take the whole community, not just a staff of 12, to fully eradicate hunger from Philadelphia. It would require creative solutions that would both support current efforts and fill in the gaps left by this monthly cycle.
So first and foremost, just as I was that day, we must all be introduced to the statistics, to reality.