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What Happens When Students & Administration Co-Create Food Security Programs

Katie Zimmerman is in her fourth year at the University of Delaware and is the Co-Founder of the Swipe Out Hunger program, which started in Fall 2018. After launching and implementing a successful program, Katie shares how she worked with administrators to make the collaboration so effective. Pictured above: Katie presents key takeaways after an advocacy session during the 2019 Swipe Student Summit.

Up until last year, the University of Delaware (UD) had resources such as the Blue Hen Bounty food pantry and the Student Crisis Fund to support students struggling with food insecurity. However, there was no resource that allowed students full, hot meals or further, consistent access to such meals. When we learned about other college campuses having a Swipe Out Hunger program to donate meal swipes to students facing food insecurity, it seemed absolutely necessary to implement this program on our campus. 

While bringing new ideas for campus programs always presents a challenge, we were fortunate enough to find incredibly supportive and helpful administrators during our outreach process. Deciding who to bring this idea to first was initially intimidating, but with the help of Maddie and the rest of the Swipe Out Hunger team, we were able to brainstorm different contacts, including current administrators and professors, as well as student-led organizations such as Blue Hen Bounty and Food Recovery Network, a student organization devoted to fighting food waste. We were incredibly surprised by how receptive everyone was to our ideas, and many of our initial contacts led us to new connections who eventually joined our team. But we did have a few drawbacks, especially when networking with students and faculty who had previously pitched this idea to our administration. While this was discouraging to hear, it also fueled us to continue to grow and strengthen the support we already had, and we think much of our success comes from having so many key administrators on our team working so closely with us, the students, to design this program to serve our peers. 

L to R: Swipe Out Hunger Founder & CEO Rachel Sumekh, Co-Founder of Swipe Out Hunger at University of Delaware Katie Zimmerman, Co-Founder of Swipe Out Hunger at University of Delaware Esha Mishra, and Swipe Out Hunger Chief Strategy Officer Maddie Alpert McCarthy.

We currently have a variety of administrators and professors to our taskforce. From the Department of Behavioral Health, Dean of Students Office, Hillel, Dining Services, Auxiliary Financial and Support Services, and the Department of Human Development and Family Services.  

This wide variety of stakeholders allows us to be an efficient, creative, and collaborative team. Working with such supportive administrators allows our program to have access to resources that we, as students, would not necessarily have access to, such as advertising support throughout various locations on campus and prizes for our top volunteers from Dining Services. But additionally, having our team of students in the room still allows us to keep a student perspective in our program.

We want to maintain this program as part of the wider, student-led movement to end college food insecurity, and by having students working so closely with key administrators, we are able to have our voices heard in important aspects of the planning of this program. 

– Katie Zimmerman

In initially reaching out to administrators and professors, we strategically chose those who had a history of working with food insecurity or related programs, which really helped us in fostering those connections and feeling that sense of commitment to our goal. Many of the resources provided to us by the Swipe Out Hunger team were incredibly helpful, including case studies, graphics, toolkits, and data on food insecurity. Having these resources in our back pocket allowed us to come prepared to meetings and really sell the need for our program on our campus, especially by showing other campus’ success. 

For most of the past year, we were very focused on bringing this program to campus and kicking off our first donation drive. After the success of our first donation drive this past September, we shifted our goals and focused on marketing our resource to students seeking help. During Hunger Homelessness and Awareness Week in November, we hosted a dedicated Swipe Out Hunger table and shared with students about the different ways they can access our resource. We hope to hold many more of these events in the future so that we are able to reach as many students as possible. As we prepare for our second donation drive this upcoming February, we also hope to build a stronger student leadership team to lead this movement across our campus and continue to grow this program for years to come. 

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