Swipe Out Hunger would be nothing without our leaders on-the-ground leading the charge to end food insecurity on campus. Students like Meredith Song from the University of Minnesota are not only key to seeding change at the grassroots, but are the ones actively catalyzing it. Meredith's leadership, along with her peers, has galvanized an incredible movement at University of Minnesota (UMN). She took a few moments to help us understand what has been so successful and her vision for the future.
The UMN program is over a year old and in this last drive, you saw an impressive 500% increase in donated swipes. As a student leader, what do you think contributed to this large increase in donated swipes this drive?
Our partnerships with our campus health system (Boynton) and the Nutritious U Good Pantry have been instrumental in our improvement from last semester. As a small student organization, we value our relationships with these departments to help spread the word about Swipes and inform students of the opportunity to donate! Additionally, we used best practices learned from last semester to help streamline our tabling process, recruit more volunteers/marketing interns, and ensure students with meal plans were aware of our cause.
What inspired you to join Swipe Out Hunger at UMN? Tell me about how you advocate for the program?
I kind of fell into Swipes by accident during my first year at the university, when the founder of the organization, David Begelman, was just starting out. However, after he graduated, I stepped into a leadership role, had the chance to meet the amazing staff at the national organization, and fell in love with the mission and values of Swipes. It is such important work at a local scale, and being able to make a tangible impact on college student experiences motivates me to stick with it, even if there are often challenges! We definitely team up with departments like Boynton to help advocate for our organization.
Tell me about your experience with on-campus dining in pushing for the program.
Dining has been generally supportive, but we have run into a lot of obstacles along the way. One of the biggest barriers has been the two swipe donation limit imposed by dining at the beginning of this academic year. That really hampered our numbers and impact for the Fall drive, so part of our strategy for the Spring was to negotiate a higher cap. While dining didn’t budge on this aspect, we still utilized social media, flyers, and targeted advertising to collect more swipes than the Fall, despite the donation limit. While it is frustrating at times, we are grateful that dining allows us to run the program here, and that we’re able to continually discuss improvements.
What do you think the effect of Swipe Out Hunger has been on UMN's campus?
Our evaluation from Swipes last year has shown that many graduate, international, and first-generation students are utilizing the program. It is amazing to hear stories directly from those who have benefitted from having a few emergency meal swipes, and it’s especially gratifying to see increased awareness of the resource, which hopefully accompanies decreasing stigma surrounding food insecurity.
What are you dreams for Swipe Out Hunger at UMN?
My dreams for Swipe Out Hunger are a bit far-fetched, but I ultimately hope for the program to not have to exist at all. In an ideal world, our dining systems would provide and distribute adequate, nutritious food for all students. In the meantime, I hope for Swipes to grow as a student group and continue to make material changes in the realms of food insecurity and justice.
Stay connected to all of the incredible work the UMN Swipes Team is accomplishing via their Facebook here.