News | Student Life

Barnard, SGA continue meal point donation program after successful first year

For the second year in a row, Barnard and the Student Government Association have collaborated to offer students facing food insecurity free meal points donated by fellow peers.

Unused points are donated via a Google form that will close this Monday. Beginning this Wednesday, donated points will become available to students, who must request points by going to the Student Life office in the Diana Center, according to an email sent by SGA last week.

As of last Thursday, 1,233 points have been donated this semester, according to data provided by Associate Dean of Student Life Alina Wong. In the 2015-2016 academic year, the first year of the program’s implementation, 4,930 points were donated—all of which were used.

Despite the relative success of the emergency meal point program, food insecurity remains a problem for students at Barnard. SGA Representative for Inclusion and Equity Hannah Seymour, BC ’17, said that Barnard’s smallest and cheapest meal plan, $320 for 300 points a semester, is not enough to cover the cost of three meals a day. She also added that the average Barnard work-study wage of $12 an hour is often not enough money for a student to be able to afford groceries.

“A lot of students who move out of the quad and into suites ... buy the smallest meal plan possible because it relieves the financial burden on their parents,” Seymour said. “It can get really challenging when you have a small work-study job and you're trying to buy food for yourself every week.”

May Cheng / Staff Designer

Moving forward, Seymour said the next step for improving Barnard’s Emergency Points Program involves allowing students to donate meal swipes in addition to points.

Seymour explained that while points are flexible because they can be used for meals at Barnard dining halls and for prepared food from Liz’s Place or the Diana Center Café, they cannot be used at Columbia’s dining halls.

Allowing students to donate swipes will provide food-insecure students with more meal options, as Barnard students can swipe into Columbia’s dining halls: John Jay, Ferris, and JJ’s Place.

Additionally, students said they would be more likely to donate to the program if they could donate swipes rather than points.

“All of my friends run out of points quickly, but we still have a ton of meal swipes,” Valentine Andreau, BC ’17, said. “Last semester, I had like 15 swipes left, and I couldn’t give them, and it was a huge waste.”

Janice Fong, BC ’17, said she does not typically have any points left to donate at the end of the semester.

“Usually I get the lowest meal plan because I am able to cook, and usually I use all of them before the end of the semester,” she said.

While Barnard’s program is criticized by students for being point-based, Columbia’s Emergency Meal Fund, which is not available to Barnard students, is swipes-based.

Depending on their meal plan, Columbia students initially were able to donate two to six guest meals per term, and any student could receive six free meal tickets redeemable at all dining halls on Columbia’s campus. The donation-based program later became subsidized by Campus Services last spring, and any student can now get up to six meal swipes per semester, no questions asked.

Student councils also promoted a student-created meal sharing program through the app Swipes, which was intended to help connect students wishing to donate meal swipes with students who are in need of meals. Although the app was touted as an efficient version of the CU Meal Share Facebook page launched by the First-Generation Low-Income Partnership, usage remained low due to technical issues.

These programs were enacted last year to aid all students facing food insecurity on Columbia’s campus, especially General Studies students, who face unprecedented levels of food insecurity.

As the Barnard program enters its second year, Seymour said she thinks it’s a good first step for the college.

“At the very least, I think the Emergency Points [Program] will continue even if it takes a longer time to get meal swipes,” she said. “It’s a great start.”

margaret.vorhaben@columbiaspectator.com | @ColumbiaSpec

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