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Columbia University finds new ways to feed campus

Columbia University­ came up with new plans to combat student hunger with an emergency meal fund and a new student-developed app called Swipes.

“Very few people on campus were aware of the fact that there were students who couldn’t even eat,” said Ben Makansi, Columbia College Student Council president. 

Makansi said the Columbia University Class Confessions Facebook page — a platform where Columbia students anonymously post about hardships they face on campus due to low-income status — brought to light the issue of food insecurity.

In early September, the student council presented the emergency meal fund to address the problem of student hunger.

The fund allows any registered student to request a maximum of six meals per semester, donated by a fellow student with extra swipes, with no questions asked about economic circumstances, Makansi said. 

“Right now six is a conservative number that we agreed upon with our dining office, but they are willing to revisit the number depending on what data shows,” he said. 

Makansi said the idea is to collect data to make a more informed solution in the future. 

Swipes was developed when two Columbia students were inspired by CU Meal Share — another Facebook page — in mid-July. The page was created by Columbia's First Generation Low-Income Partnership to help students in need of free meals match with students who had extra swipes.

“We thought (the CU Meal Share Facebook page) could be made so much more efficient, faster and easier for students to use if it is made an app,” said Helson Taveras, one of the founders of Swipes. 

Through Swipes, any Columbia student can sign up as either a “swiper” or “receiver.” When a receiver enters the time and the dining hall, a notification is sent out to all swipers in the dining hall. If no swiper is available in the hall, a broader notification is sent out to the campus. 

When a swiper and a receiver match, each receives a photo of the other with a note that can be used to help the two find each other.

“A lot of data is raw, but 400 users have signed up and 120 students have signed as a swiper,” Taveras said. “It means 30 percent of users are willing to give away their swipes, and that’s a strong number."

Taveras said other schools with similar dining hall services to Columbia would benefit from this app.

UNC-Chapel Hill has a Facebook event page called “SwipeFest.” During SwipeFest students also match up swipers and receivers.

But at UNC only students with block meal plans can swipe in friends while Columbia Dining offers their students a certain number of guest meals depending on what year they are and which dining plan they have. 

Brandon Thomas, spokesperson for UNC Auxiliary Services, said in an email that CDS also assures students in need are provided with healthy meals.

Thomas said Carolina Dining Services supports the Dean of Students’ Office in providing the Student Emergency Fund for students with unexpected emergency expenses and donates $200,000 each year to The Carolina Covenant, which offers eligible low-income students the opportunity to graduate from UNC without debt.

CDS will host an event called Feeding the 5,000 on Tuesday where they will serve free lunch to the University and surrounding community. Last year the event surpassed the goal of 5,000 by feeding approximately 9,300 people.

Thomas said that while CDS does not facilitate swipe trading, it is aware of the process and seeks to help students in other ways.

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