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International First-year Student Creates His Own Food Drive on Campus

By Jamie Gesell

Meal plans are essential to college students. Each semester, they’re renewed. But unused meal swipes don’t transfer into the next semester. Instead the funds are wasted, and one student sees this as akin to wasting food. First-year Joe Sawma from Lebanon started his own food drive event here on campus to do something about these unused extra meal swipes. His project, "A Meal for Me, A Meal for You," helped collect food donations from students to be given to the Panther Pantry in Post Hall.

Joe Sawma started the food drive project A Meal for Me, A Meal for You. Photo courtesy of Joe Sawma

Sawma said he was inspired to start his food drive at the end of the fall 2021 semester in December when he realized that a lot of students had extra meal swipes to spare and didn’t know what to do with them.

“I started noticing that many students on campus had an excessive amount of meal swipes and were concerned about how they should spend them,” he said. He saw that most of them were purchasing things they didn’t need. Some of his friends bought two or three meals at lunch and only ate a little bit before throwing the rest away. He said he even saw people at the UC Starbucks buy many plastic cups just to use their extra meal swipes.

He thought that those unused meal swipes could instead be used for something more productive and beneficial, like food donations for people in need. He then came up with the idea of A Meal for Me, A Meal for You to achieve this goal. The idea is that students can donate meal swipes for goods “that would be donated to the Panther Pantry where students that are actually in need of it would be able to benefit from it,” he said.

The Panther Pantry on campus provides food to Adelphi community members. In addition to food, the pantry also provides personal care, clothing and household items. All use of the pantry is kept confidential to ensure the privacy of individuals.

Ethan Perez, a classmate of Sawma's from the Freshman Seminar Learning to Lead class, was one of the people who helped him with his project. “To be honest, I wasn’t expecting this project to be as successful as it was considering the time restraints. Because of this, I’m excited to see the results of Joe’s project this semester, now that we will be more prepared,” he said.

Some of the food donated to Joe Sawma's food drive project, later given to the Panther Pantry. Photo by Joe Sawma

They met numerous times to plan and organize the food drive. Sawma contacted the pantry and school officials to coordinate and approve the project. Then they used their printing dollars to print out around 60 flyers Sawma made to spread the word of the food drive. After that, they made and decorated a collection box to be used for collecting food and “to fit the vibe of our project,” he said.

During the collection days, they checked on the box, which was located in the UC Dining Hall, to see the status of the collections.

First-year student and EMT Ari Azoulay donated around 40 meal swipes. “With everything I do outside of school I just love to help others and not expect anything in return,” Azoulay said.

However, there were challenges along the way with the project. According to Sawma, it was very time-sensitive because it all occurred during the last week of the semester.

“The amount of bureaucracy we had to go through was significant and with minimal positive response,” he said. He would contact certain faculty members for help and wait three to four days for a response. If they did contact him, he received little help from them. “The answer was always hanging in the gray with no bold yes.”

When collecting the first batch of donations, the box had been removed from its designated spot. To resolve the matter, Sawma and his classmates “swiftly,” as he puts it, relocated to another place on campus (the UC Starbucks and store area) to continue collecting donations. They also manually changed the flyers to say the new location of the donation spot.

In the short period, Sawma’s food drive was able to collect more than 100 meal swipes, which equals to more than $900. Although he admitted he hasn’t participated in food drives before, he couldn’t resist the chance to start his own here on campus.

“I found an opportunity for a social issue and could not help but seize the moment,” he said, adding he’s proud of his accomplishment. “Our results reminded me that the greater good will always prevail no matter what stones are thrown at you while pursuing your goal.”

He is looking forward to an even stronger initiative this semester believing that more accomplishments will be made. He plans to continue the food drive in the spring with the hope of bringing in more donations to be given to the Panther Pantry.

“We are continuously looking for ways to help address food insecurity on campus, so we were very thankful for Joe for coming to us with his plan to collect donations,” said Michael Hoffner, coordinator of the Interfaith Center and Panther Pantry. “At the end of each semester, many students have extra meal swipes on their card, so I think it is a great idea that those swipes be used for the common good to help support the Panther Pantry and the Adelphi community. We are grateful to Joe for organizing this effort to get students to purchase items using their extra swipes to donate to the pantry. Thank you to all the students that donated items. It is inspiring to see how many people got involved to help out and a great reminder that the Adelphi community as a whole is one that cares deeply for the wellbeing of each of its members.”

For more information on the Panther Pantry, visit

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