News | Student Life

Supporting both EMF and Swipes, food insecurity partnership retraces its steps

A year after touting the meal-sharing app Swipes and the Emergency Meal Fund as the foremost solutions to food insecurity on campus, the undergraduate councils and First-Generation Low-Income Partnership will once again throw their weight behind expanding and promoting these two resources.

Neither resource fulfilled expectations following their release last September. Swipes, presented as the best first option for food-insecure students, quickly drew criticism from councils and FLIP for being ineffective and eventually ceased operation last semester.

Councils then pivoted to more heavily promoting the Emergency Meal Fund, from which students can claim up to six free meals per semester. EMF showed low but consistent usage in its first semester, after which it was taken over and subsidized by Campus Services. The administrative office covers all meals claimed through EMF, without accepting student donations.

Now, facing ongoing food insecurity on campus, members of the councils and FLIP have once again turned to the two initiatives, aiming to revive Swipes and restart student donations to EMF with the aim of raising the cap on how many free meals students can claim per semester.

Once implemented, these changes would establish two separate resources through which food-insecure students can claim spare meals from a pool of available swipes. The success of the resources would therefore require that both receive a steady flow of meal donations from students—something that eluded Swipes last fall.

Despite this, CCSC Vice President of Policy Abby Porter, CC ’17, said that she does not believe both resources’ reliance on support from the same pool of donors would inhibit growth of either platform. Porter said that, since EMF allows students to donate meals more privately than Swipes, there would not be significant competition for donations between the programs.

“I think it’s definitely better to have a variety of resources,” Porter said. “I think what’s important is that putting resources behind both of them doesn’t conflict ... and that they both stay in operation.”

Swipes’ lack of consistent users early on stemmed from miscommunication between councils promoting the app and technical flaws within the app, such as faulty location services. Additionally, Swipes’ leadership struggled to cover development costs and manage the app alongside coursework, according to Kunal Kamath, CC ’17, who worked on the app last year and hopes to spearhead its relaunch this year.

Just nine days after the app was launched, FLIP posted—and then retracted—a statement on Facebook describing Swipes as “detrimental” to food insecurity efforts, and General Studies Student Council leadership expressed frustration that the app was not doing enough to help food-insecure GS students later in September. In a November interview with Spectator, CCSC executive board members reverted back to their original stance and promoted EMF as the best resource for food-insecure students.

EMF, for its part, had steady albeit low participation, with 72 students using the fund in Fall 2015 and a total of 306 unclaimed donated swipes by the end of the term, according to data published by Campus Services. Since subsidizing the fund in January—providing all claimable meals without accepting student donations—Campus Services has declined to release data on its usage.

Members of the Engineering Student Council and CCSC policy committees now hope to reopen donations to EMF in addition to administrative subsidization. They also aim to channel council funding and support from administrators to Swipes in order to strengthen the app’s development.

Kamath said that, with funding for development costs and support from Campus Services, the app could eventually be connected to students’ dining accounts. This would allow students to donate spare meals or claim them via their Uni, essentially replicating the donation-based, anonymous EMF system.

“We faced a lot of challenges from the administration because we had to have a real grassroots approach as far as launching Swipes because we couldn’t really partner with dining halls,” Kamath said. “And, in addition to the administrative pushback, there were also financial issues; we were fronting all the costs ourselves.”

Engineering Student Council VP of Policy Sidney Perkins, SEAS ’17, said that he thinks both Swipes and EMF should be funded and prioritized, adding that one of the resources could be prioritized by councils and FLIP in the future, but only after the partnership has had more time to analyze the success of each.

“I think that there will come a point maybe in three or four years when we will weigh the different approaches and we’ll have a huge amount of data,” Perkins said. “At that point, it might make sense to make a decision about which approaches are the most successful. Given that all the ideas are in their nascent stages, I think it would be too early to decide.”

aaron.holmes@columbiaspectator.com | @AaronPHolmes

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