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Guest meal swipe donation program reinstated

Channing Wang / Thresher

By Mainavi Reddy     3/2/21 9:35pm

Rice University reinstated their Guest Meal Swipe Donation Program this semester after a pause during the Fall 2020 semester. The program serves to mitigate food insecurity by allowing on-campus undergraduates with a Type A meal plan — 20 meals per week — to donate their unused meal swipes to off-campus peers, according to the Student Success Initiatives website. According to David McDonald, the senior business director of Housing and Dining, approximately 1,443 meal swipes have been donated this semester leading to the reimplementation of the program.

The program was designed and implemented at the beginning of 2020. It serves students living off-campus who cannot afford meal plans after campus administrators recognized the extent to which meal swipes were going unused. Spearheaded by the Student Association, the program connected the Student Success Initiatives and H&D programs. Current SA president Anna Margaret Clyburn initiated the plan in 2018 as a Martel College SA Senator at the time. 

Clyburn said she was prompted to launch the program when she learned that there were 7,000 unused meal swipes at the end of the fall 2017 semester. In a 2020 Thresher article, then Student Association President Grace Wickerson described the importance of the program to first-generation and low-income students. According to Wickerson, the program supplements the SSI’s Pantry, and provides on-campus and anonymous alternatives to picking up food from the pantry. 

However, due to a lack of registration in the past semester, the program was inactive beginning September 2020, according to Dean of Undergraduates Bridget Gorman.

McDonald was integral in creating a system by which these unused meals would be reserved for other off-campus students according to Susan Glenn. However, H&D saw a sharp decline in sign-ups this past semester and thus were unable to continue the program, according to McDonald.

William Tsai, a new student representative at Will Rice College, said he worked with McDonald and Clyburn to help revive the program this semester.

“[The drop in volunteers] was in large part because many students weren’t aware of the existence of the program; even if they knew about it, it was somewhat difficult to find the information on how to donate,” Tsai said. 

Gorman attributed issues to COVID-19 including a smaller eligibility pool as fewer students were living on campus and the greater stresses placed on the administration.

“University offices were very busy running our fall start, which was much more complicated than usual,” she said. 

However, while donations of meal swipes were sparse, COVID-19 exacerbated their need. According to the Office of Student Success Initiatives, more Rice students than ever are facing food insecurity. According to Gorman, members of the Rice community are facing unemployment and reduced work hours like many during the pandemic. These factors exacerbate food insecurity and the Guest Swipe Meal Sharing Program provides a COVID safe option for these students, Gorman explained.

“Thus, we launched a campaign to advertise the program to students through SA representatives in the individual colleges and on a campus-wide level,” Tsai said

Trisha Gupta is the SA senator for Sid Richardson College. She describes intensified efforts to boost sign-ups. 

“I plugged the program pretty heavily in all my weekly emails and presentation to Sid Council. I also had my NSRs send out multiple emails to the freshman Listserv explaining more about the program and encouraging freshmen who were unfamiliar with the program to participate.” She explains. 

According to Tsai, the Student Association also launched a campuswide initiative that simplified the process of donation and emphasized the importance of such a program. Tsai said they encouraged residential colleges and campus organizations to distribute flyers with QR codes to the meal swipe form, and they also simplified the process of signing up with a five-question swipe form. These initiatives, along with increased enrollment of on-campus students this semester, Tsai said allowed for sufficient donations for the program to run. 

Amanda Hogan, a freshman from Hanszen College, signed up for the meal swipe program. She said the form was relatively simple and she was able to donate her meal swipes after the deadline stated on the website had passed. 

“I found about the program through Facebook, and decided to donate some of my meal swipes,” Hogan said. “The process was fairly easy and I was able to donate after the deadline had passed.” 

However, despite these efforts and increased sign-ups, some students said they still found information unclear. Christine Walker, a freshman at McMurtry College, said she faced some uncertainty regarding the program. 

“I knew about the program. I’m honestly just not one hundred percent sure how the swipes work or if it is money-related. So I just decided to opt-out,” Walker said. 

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