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A Week in the Life of a University of Minnesota Anti-Hunger Advocate: Part One

This is the first of a three-part series for Hunger and Homelessness Awareness Week 2020 written by University of Minnesota’s Swipe Out Hunger’s Co-President, Gigi Otten. Over the last few months, her and her incredible team of student advocates have galvanized on campus and beyond to create lasting change in the face of so many obstacles. We asked her to tell us how the Swipe Out Hunger team at University of Minnesota made it happen!

A New Strategy for the New Semester

The first message I get in the morning is usually from my Co-President, Trey. We run the University of Minnesota (UMN) chapter of Swipe Out Hunger together. We first met last year as freshmxn at a Swipe Out Hunger meeting. Little did I know that eight months later, the three-year-old club was going to be handed over to Trey and I. Our small student group didn’t know the next six months would bring its biggest growth spurt yet. 

At the beginning of this semester, Trey and I read a campus wide email that our Swipe Drive program was to be suspended for the semester. Our constant companion, COVID-19 (or as I like to call it, the Big C), was wreaking havoc once again.

Since students outside of the dorms were not allowed to access the dining halls due to well-placed safety restrictions, the Gophers who were working University minimum wage and paying tuition lost the only hot, easily accessible, free meal on campus.

Trey and I took only a moment to have an existential crisis before we regrouped our small chapter of dedicated UMN students. We could see that the Swipe Drive we knew would not be supported as long as the Big C stuck around; it was time to break out of our comfy box and find a new way to support students. 

Our University did not leave us empty handed: the UMN Dining program generously donated $2,000 to Swipe Out Hunger. In a typical year, we would distribute 1,000 meals in five-meal increments to 175+ students. The new challenge this semester was to use the $2,000 to help the returning students and many more who were hurt by the pandemic. 

We knew that UMN Gophers were scattered around the country and the world. We needed a way to get food to those who weren’t on campus, couldn’t risk visiting a restaurant, and needed a meal between work, class, and sleep. We also needed to consider the variety of diets, cultures, and abilities of those we wanted to serve. With this in mind, we decided to partner with Grubhub – a food delivery service – to buy gift cards. After weeks of Trey and I emailing, texting, Snapping, Zooming, chatting, and doing that thing where you both type on a shared Google Doc at the same time…we not only allocated the $2,000 on Grubhub gift cards to fellow students, but realized that we had the capacity to do so much more for our community. 

In spite of the Big C, we did have a few things going for us: the most incredible University liaison, a great team of students, and a fantastic partnership with the national Swipe Out Hunger team.

Stay tuned to learn how after the UMN Swipe Out Hunger team galvanized their college, they then invited their community and legislators to the fight to end student food insecurity all Hunger and Homelessness Awareness Week , from November 16 – November 20, 2020.

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