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The Carletonian

The Carletonian

Carls work to end food insecurity with Swipe Out Hunger initiative

<od insecurity is a problem on Carleton’s campus, and Jonah Kan ’19 is doing something about it.

Although few Carleton students are aware of the problem, not all of their peers have reliable access to affordable, nutritious food. Being off-board is less expensive than paying for Bon Appétit, and according to Dining Services Manager Katie McKenna, about 10% of students choose that option.
As Kan put it, “Students may have the opportunity to be off-board and see it as a way to save money, but then find themselves in a situation where they don’t actually have enough money to consistently buy nutritious food. That’s the scenario I see playing out a lot.”

Over breaks, the problem is even worse. Financial aid covers meal plans only when school is in session, so a student who does not have money for food is out of luck if they stay on campus over break.

To address this problem, in February 2017 Kan founded a chapter of Swipe Out Hunger (SOH) at Carleton. Kan got the idea when he attended a Food Recovery Network conference and heard the founder of the national SOH movement speak.

“I’d noticed a similar need on Carleton’s campus, because I’d had a few friends who had experiences with food insecurity,” Kan said. He wanted to find a way to alleviate this little-known and largely-ignored problem on campus, and SOH seemed like a great opportunity to do that.

Swipe Out Hunger is a non-profit organization based at various colleges nationwide. SOH is dedicated to reducing food insecurity by letting students “donate unused meal points to their food insecure community—turning unused resources into action through student advocates in the system,” according to their website. 

At Carleton, it works a bit differently. Instead of unused points being donated to food shelves, here Swipe Out Hunger is implemented via Café-Fast events, in which students can choose to give up a meal swipe.

Café-Fasts have been occurring at Carleton for a while, even before Kan partnered with the national SOH program. A group who wants to run a Café-Fast must simply fill out a form, obtain Senate approval, and then send student names and IDs to Bon Appétit, Kan explained. Then, for each meal swipe donated, B.A. donates a portion ($2.20 per meal) to a food-based charity.

The innovation of Swipe Out Hunger is that this money will now remain within Carleton and help Carleton students directly. Through SOH Café-Fasts, the $2.20 raised per meal ends up in a new pool maintained by the Dean of Students’ office as part of the Emergency Funds program, which allows food-insecure students to request money for meals. A student simply fills out the Emergency Fund Request form, the Dean of Students’ office cross-checks to verify that the student needs the money, and then it is granted in the form of a meal voucher.

Emergency Funds have always been available, but until Kan implemented SOH, these funds hadn’t covered food. Dean Livingston is currently working on changing the wording of the Emergency Funding page so that it includes food, Kan noted.

Partnering with the national SOH program allows for more support and publicity, explained Kan. SOH facilitates running and advertizing Café-Fasts. “I joined them for support, since I was the only person leading the program,” Kan said.

Carleton’s program may be a bit different from most Swipe Out Hunger systems, but SOH’s backing is instrumental nevertheless.

Last Friday, May 12, Swipe Out Hunger held their second Café-Fast of the term, and 223 students participated. As Kan described, “We teamed up with Empty Bowls because people wouldn’t be eating lunch in the dining halls that afternoon anyway. Why not donate $2.20 if you’re not going to be using it?”

The two groups decided to partner in advertising because of the complementary nature of their programs.  Last year’s Empty Bowls was combined with a Café-Fast, but those proceeds went to Empty Bowls. This time, the new SOH fund received that money, and Empty Bowls solicited donations separately.

Throughout this past winter, SOH’s first term at Carleton, Café-Fasts raised $519. This term, Kan reported, the fund already has $495. Kan reported that at the halfway point of Spring term, just about two or three students had been regularly requesting Emergency Funds for food insecurity. Kan expects this number to rise with increased publicity for SOH, as more students learn about this option.

“The word is still spreading, and it’s a new program, so the number of people requesting funds will go up… which is a good thing, because people need these resources,” he said.

From the perspective of Bon Appétit, Café-Fasts and Swipe Out Hunger do not incur any financial burden. “We get paid by the college based on the number of students on the various meal plans,” McKenna explained.

Overall, Bon Appétit has been enthusiastic about Swipe Out Hunger. “This is one of the things that is so heartwarming about working at Carleton, because the students here really have compassion for others. This program is a great example of that…the students really care. Bon Appétit loves that part of college campuses,” McKenna said.

Jenni Rogan ’19, program director for CCCE program Green Thumbs, has been involved in the implementation of Swipe Out Hunger. As she explained, “We’re looking for volunteers and people to help out, because Jonah will be abroad in the Fall. It’s not a club yet, and not part of CCCE, so there’s not much support in place.”

Right now, Rogan described, they are focused on “getting people more interested and involved, and helping spread awareness about the program. It seems every term more and more people are aware of SOH as an organization.”

As McKenna described, the initial idea behind Café-Fasts was that students would skip a meal altogether, but that has not been the reality. “The original idea of a Cafe Fast, when it was first started, was that people would give up a meal and go hungry to donate to charity. But that never in fact happens. Nobody really goes hungry. Normally what we see when there’s a cafe fast is more people eating at Sayles,” she said.

Of course, there is nothing inherently wrong with students choosing to eat all three meals. But the fact that Café-Fasts are never anything close to actual fasts reflects the fact that most students at Carleton are quite comfortable with their food availability. And while many Carls can choose to simply buy extra Sayles food when they donate their meal swipe, other students may not have access to a meal in the first place.

Kan said that in proposing and discussing Swipe Out Hunger, many people responded to him with comments along the lines of “This makes no sense, because everyone’s on a meal plan…there shouldn’t be food insecurity here.” And those people are exactly right: Carleton shouldn’t allow any students to be food-insecure, given the institution’s financial means. But despite being an overlooked issue, food insecurity exists at Carleton, and Swipe Out Hunger may be the key to eradicating it.

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