Columbia combats food insecurity on campus

A meal fund and a mobile app allow students to help classmates

Columbia University students concerned with hunger on campus launched two initiatives this fall—one involving a mobile app—that help provide struggling classmates with meals.

The Emergency Meal Fund allows students on Columbia’s meal plan to donate up to six unused meals per semester. Any Columbia undergraduate or graduate student can register to receive a donated meal, no questions asked.

Students can request a maximum of six per term, and meal passes can be used at one of three residential dining halls.

Another way students can connect is through the Swipes app, which is based on a previous meal-sharing Facebook group started by Columbia’s First-Generation Low-Income Partnership (FLIP).

College students and hunger concerns

27% of students said they don’t have enough money to buy food

How they cope

  • Eat fewer meals overall
  • Cut the size of each meal

7% of two-year college students said they have gone an entire day without eating due to having no money

5% of four-year college students have done so

Why student food insecurity has worsened

  • Increased tuition costs
  • Lack of financial aid

SOURCE: “Safety, Security, and College Attainment: An Investigation of Undergraduates’ Basic Needs and Institutional Response,” Wisconsin HOPE Lab, 2014

Students use Swipes to request a meal and connect with a fellow student willing to donate.

Both initiatives were created by The Columbia College Student Council, in partnership with administrators and FLIP. Columbia Dining also supports the cause, says Scott Wright, vice president of campus services.

“Our students are innovative, compassionate and focused on many of today’s issues both on and off campus,” he says. “We look forward to continuing to work with our students through their leadership organizations as they identify new challenges or opportunities for partnership.”

Institution-based free meal or food bank programs are spreading rapidly. In 2008, only four college food banks offered students free meals; today, 199 similar programs operate around the country, according to the College and University Food Bank Alliance.

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