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

This is the second 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!

Growing Our Community

We were starting to form a vision of what we could be, but we knew we would need support getting there. We started with a connection we had already made last year with the Minnesota Governor’s office. Renewing our relationship with a higher education policy advisor to Gov. Waltz, we were able to meet a number of inspiring people working for people’s basic needs. One of those new connections was to two incredible women from Minnesota Central Kitchen. What followed was one of the two most productive meetings of my life: by the time we left the Zoom call, UMN Swipe Out Hunger was partnering with Minnesota Central Kitchen to serve 150 ready-to-go meals from our Student Union every week! Our UMN Swipe Out Hunger program previously reached that many students a semester – now we could reach that many every week! For all its flaws  – The Big C was pushing us to new horizons. 

Students Supporting Students

To tip us over the top, we spoke with the Chief Financial Officer of the Minnesota Student Association. This meeting was not only profitable, but also incredibly efficient. Trey and I began explaining how common student food insecurity is. When a student tries to work the 72-hours a week needed to pay UMN tuition, while balancing the course load of four or five classes, and potentially trying to eat, sleep, and have a social life in between, it is hardly a surprise that one in five UMN students worry about getting enough to eat. We touched on how the pandemic has resulted in lost jobs and cut hours for many working students – keeping in mind that a student’s SNAP benefits are lost if their work week drops below 20 hours. We explained the mountain of other stressors from bad apartment WiFi to cancelled thesis research.

But we never got to finish. In the middle of this heartfelt speech, she interrupted to say “I get it, really; you don’t need to convince me.” If it’s possible to make eye contact over Zoom, Trey and I would have been sharing a look of disbelief. Monetary discussions with the University are usually prefaced and concluded with the financial hardship being felt by the institution. We were met, however, with a Student Government that was ready to allocate their available funds back to the students who provided them. We are still in the process of finalizing the budget, but we are hoping that with additional funds from the Minnesota Student Association, the support of BIPOC restaurants, and the GrubHub partnership, we will be able get students the 1,000 hot meals we originally provided plus 150 packed to-go containers each week.

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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