Horst: Swiping away North Philadelphia’s hunger crisis

One student organization donated unsued meal plan food to charity.

Tyler Horst

Tyler HorstNot sure what to do with all those unused meal swipes? You could consider giving them to someone in need.

Many Temple students bite off more than they can chew when selecting meal plans. I, for one, had no idea what to do with the 25 swipes per week I was paying for during my first semester as a freshman. Using the leftovers to buy snacks seemed like a good plan until I had more packets of instant noodles than I could ever use.

Michael Zaykaner found a more productive use for extra meals. In 2014, the sophomore biology major started the SWIPES for Service program, a food drive that received 100 percent of its donations from students’ leftover meal swipes.

SWIPES, which stands for Students Who Increase Philadelphia’s Food Supply, stationed all of its drives outside of the Night Owl, a now-decommissioned cafeteria in the basement of 1300 Residence Hall, on Sunday nights and encouraged students to use their remaining swipes to buy food which would be donated to Philabundance.

“It seemed like a very simple idea,” Zaykaner said, and when the first week went by and he and several friends had donated 300 pounds of food, he “knew it was an idea that was going to stick around.”

Unfortunately, it wasn’t able to stick around for long. The Night Owl closed at the start of the 2014-15 academic year and Zaykaner hasn’t been able to start SWIPES anywhere else yet. Even so, this kind of innovative service should inspire other students to rethink how they use their excess meal swipes.

Nate Quinn, unit marketing coordinator for Sodexo at Temple, said he would be willing to assist students looking to do these types of drives in the future. Quinn said Sodexo donates unused food from dining halls to Boys’ & Girls’ Clubs of America, but drives like SWIPES could help bolster local food assistance programs.

Although some students are diligent about using all of their meals, buying a plan with a greater number of meal swipes encourages students to buy food just for the sake of getting what they paid for.

Zaykaner said his own wastefulness inspired him to start SWIPES.

“On Sunday nights I would have six or seven meals left over so I would go to the Night Owl and stock all the food under my bed, but I never planned on eating it,” he said.

Rather than paying for more meals than they can actually eat, students would do better to give what they don’t need to those who do. Philabundance works year-round to alleviate hunger in the Delaware Valley, and it’s only with community involvement that they are able to keep going.

Stephen Schaeffer, the food drive coordinator at Philabundance, said smaller drives like SWIPES help the organization to get through the year. Donations peak around the winter holidays, when Schaeffer said “people are in a giving spirit,” but hunger doesn’t go away in the intervening months. Smaller donations, put together by many smaller efforts, add up to a big help.

“We contacted Philabundance because they’re the largest food bank in the area and the North Philly location is just five minutes away,” Zaykaner said. There are people and organizations right outside students’ front doors that could make better use of food than dorm-dwellers stockpiling it in a mini-fridge.

The idea is so simple that it’s not hard to see it catching on again, and not just here at Temple. Other universities in the area could follow the same example.

“Those guys came up with a really great model,” Schaeffer said about Zaykaner and his friends. “I want to start that in other schools.”

SWIPES can only start again at Temple with the help of students. For the drive to be successful, there not only have to be students willing to use their swipes – which are lost to the ether after the turn of each week anyway – to buy the food, but also the manpower necessary to collect and deliver the goods to food banks.

It would be a team effort, but it wouldn’t be difficult. With SWIPES donation collectors in every dining hall, neither food nor meal swipes would have to go to waste.

It’s better than buying five meals’ worth of donuts just because you feel like you have to.

Tyler Horst can be reached at tyler.horst@tenple.edu

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