Guest swipe program donations to return this semester
The Guest Meal Swipe Donation program will return to Rice this semester as a collaborative effort between the Student Association, Student Success Initiatives and Housing and Dining. The program allows undergraduates with a Type A meal plan, required for all on-campus students, to donate some or all of their five meal guest swipes to off-campus students facing food insecurity.
According to William Tsai, the SA Senator at Will Rice College, the program collects donations of guest swipes at the beginning of the semester that are then redistributed by H&D and SSI as packages to eligible students. Tsai, who began working on the program last year alongside then-SA President Anna Margaret Clyburn, said that student eligibility was determined through an application and their financial aid information.
Shelah Crear, the director of SSI, said that last semester, a total of 31 students were able to receive 45-meal packages. According to Crear, the program started the donation and application process earlier compared to last year so that students have more time to use their meal swipes.
This semester, students are able to donate their guest swipes through the Swipe Donation Form until Sept. 10. Students can request to receive swipes through the program by filling out a form with the SSI, due Sept. 13.
Jazmine Castillo, vice president of Rice Questbridge, said while she thinks the guest swipe program is an extremely valuable resource, it could be better promoted and advertised. Questbridge is a national organization that partners with colleges and universities to provide educational opportunities for first-generation low-income students.
“This is a recurring issue that I’ve seen this year as well, that many students, especially FGLI students, don’t hear about resources like the guest swipe initiative ... without hearing about it via word of mouth from other students,” Castillo, a McMurtry College junior, said.
Dean of Undergraduates Bridget Gorman previously said not enough students participated in the program during the fall 2020 semester, preventing the full implementation of the program. By spring of 2021, H&D Director David McDonald said that a total of 1,443 meal swipes were donated and reallocated through the reinstated program.
Tsai said he attributes some of that success to the realities of the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic as well as expanded advertising efforts. Compared to fall of 2020, when the program was first established by Clyburn, Tsai said more students knew they would invite fewer friends and families to visit campus because of the pandemic, so even more of their guest swipes were unused.
“My role last spring was mainly to advertise the program to the greater student body, because … it’s a program that not many people know about,” Tsai said. “We really wanted to push those donations and make sure that students who knew they weren’t going to use those swipes could donate them.”
Ben Firullo, a senior at Lovett College, said that he knows very little about the program and if it would be accessible enough for him to participate.
“I don’t know much about the program, but I think I’d [donate] if it were automatic, and at the end of the semester my leftover guest swipes just got carried over and donated,” Firullo said.
Castillo said she would prefer for rollover of donated swipes to the next semester since they are allocated relatively late in the semester.
With the loosening of COVID-19 restrictions, Tsai said that he thinks the program may receive fewer donated swipes than last semester as more students bring guests to campus.
“I’m assuming that the numbers will go down this semester, just by the nature of it, but we are still going to try our best to push the program and get those guest swipes donated for the people that need it,” Tsai said. “[Last semester], the [donated swipes] were all used, so we actually had a shortage at the end … And so that’s also a motivation for us to continue building off of that and make sure that everyone who requests a swipe hopefully gets one and gets the food that they need.”
Thomas Kovac, a junior at Wiess College, said that he does plan to donate guest swipes but would also like to see an expansion of the existing program, such as allowing for donation of unused swipes.
“I don’t always get breakfast, so instead of wasting those swipes I’d like to see them go to other students,” Kovac said.
Castillo said the program has helped take stress off her shoulders by allowing her to have reliable access to meals at the servery.
“[It] also relieved some of the social barriers of being an off-campus student with on-campus peers during meals,” Castillo said.
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