By Kurana Doobay
Not only do meal swipes put a strain on the wallets of college students, but a strain on the rising issue of food insecurity. At the end of the semester, some students are left with more meal swipes than they need, while others are left with little to none. Those wasted meal swipes could be used to feed others in need, and when Joe Sawma noticed the severity of this issue, he felt strongly enough to take it into his own hands.
In the fall 2021 semester, Sawma, a sophomore international student from Lebanon, created an initiative called “A Meal for Me, a Meal for You.” Through the program, students with extra meal swipes would purchase non-perishable food items at spots on campus—such as The Market or In Post Hall—that they could drop off in marked boxes placed at these locations, later to be donated to the Panther Pantry. Toward the end of the fall 2022 semester, when Sawma still felt like there was more to be done, he decided to revamp the program.
“I contacted my past two project mates Jamie Gesell and Ethan Perez and told them about relaunching my initiative,” Sawma said. “They were really excited to combine efforts again and they were passionate about getting similar, if not better results since last year.”
To spread more awareness on the program, Sawma made sure to get as much word out as possible. “I contacted my two first-year seminar professors about it and they wanted me to speak about it in front of their class. I went and spoke in front of their new classes, and they were all really interested about it,” he said.
As a result, Sawma was able to recruit several volunteers to help plan the goals of the program and work on the most effective ways to achieve them. “Three students were very eager to join efforts with us this year. They were Erica Gibson, Audrie Bowden and Casandra Landrian.”
Gibson said, “It was a fun experience. It was a great time to spend time around people who have similar passions as I do.”
Sawma said the six students met a couple of times to discuss how they would go about the initiative step by step. “I divided roles based on each person’s personal skills and strengths, which allowed us to create a great team ready to support each other,” he said.
They got to work, preparing collection boxes, creating and spreading flyers, as well as using the power of social media to be sure the program would produce the best results.
Gesell, a sophomore who helped jumpstart the program with Sawma last year, said, “I helped promote the project by posting it on other social media handles. I also informed other organizations of it, such as the Student Activities Board and even all the event assistants in the Admissions Department.”
The program was launched on Dec. 16 and ran until the last day of the semester, Dec. 21.
All the extra efforts and commitments paid off, surpassing last year’s margins. Sawma said that last year they raised around $1,000 in donations; this year they raised nearly $3,000.
“We were able to collect up to 20 to 30 meal swipes all at once from individual students,” Sawma said. “We thankfully ended up with multiple full boxes everyday until the 21st.”
Gibson said, “I truly hope our efforts are helping, not only in the immediate sense, but in the future, to normalize donating food and normalize the receiving of those donations. I think it will help people have meals without having to worry about shifting around or straining budgets.”
So next time, instead of spending multiple meal swipes all at once on more reusable Christmas themed Starbucks cups than you need, you might want to think about turning a meal *swipe* for you into a meal for someone in need.