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Tackling student food insecurity with SwipeShare

Partnership between the Division of Student Life, undergrads, and grad students that enables guest swipe donations draws 673 donated meals in its first week.
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The SwipeShare initiative at MIT is designed to help tackle student food insecurity.
The SwipeShare initiative at MIT is designed to help tackle student food insecurity.
Image courtesy of the Division of Student Life

In its first full week of operation, SwipeShare — a new program that allows students who are on a meal plan to donate their guest swipes to other students struggling with food insecurity — garnered 673 donated meals. The program was launched on Dec. 4 as a partnership between the Division of Student Life (DSL), Undergraduate Association (UA), and Graduate Student Council (GSC), and is one part of an ongoing, multi-pronged approach to tackling challenges students can face getting enough to eat.

“It doesn’t matter who you are. Any student can face food insecurity, so any student who expresses they’re facing this difficulty can get the meal swipes,” says Alexa Martin, the UA's vice president.

GSC President Sarah Goodman says financial insecurity in general “is a significant problem for many graduate students, particularly those with families.”

“Among other programs that provide assistance to grad students in need, we hope that SwipeShare will provide another avenue for students to get support in a way that works best for them," Goodman says.

Accessing the program — either by donating guest swipes or requesting a meal — is designed to be simple. Students who wish to donate their swipes can go to (certificate required) to see how many guest swipes they have for the semester and then select how many they would like to donate. Undergraduates who wish to receive the swipes can contact a dean in Student Support Services, and graduate students who need meals can reach out to Naomi Carton, the associate dean for Residential Life and Dining.

There is no application or qualification process, and all requests will be handled discreetly.

“We want the bar to be low so there’s no paperwork, and it doesn’t matter if students are receiving financial aid or not,” says DSL Senior Associate Dean David Randall. “Students only need to come in and tell us what their need is so that we can figure out a way to help.”

Vice President and Dean for Student Life Suzy Nelson calls SwipeShare a “creative and caring program” and “a solid first step in the right direction” to address food insecurity among students. DSL, in collaboration with students, staff, and faculty, is also focused on developing and implementing other strategies.

For instance, DSL has issued a request for proposal for a new dining contract that aims to create a “food secure” campus and promote the availability of economically-priced, healthful food across campus. The DSL will also implement a new residential meal plan program that permits roll-over meals, a change that would allow the SwipeShare program to expand beyond collecting just guest swipe donations. Under the current meal plan, regular meal swipes expire at the end of each week, while guest swipes accumulate throughout the semester, allowing students to donate unused meals.

Meanwhile, the Food Insecurity Solutions Committee, chaired by Randall, has been meeting throughout the fall semester. The group, which consists of students and staff, is responsible for reviewing survey data, consulting with members of the MIT community, examining how peer institutions address food insecurity, and exploring the feasibility of implementing similar models at the Institute. The committee’s report is due to be released at the start of the spring semester. Also, an emergency grant fund was recently established to help students who are struggling to afford necessities — such as food and winter clothing — or to cover unforeseen, essential expenses. Undergraduates are encouraged to contatct Student Support Services for more information, while graduate students can reach out to Naomi Carton.

Finally, a new coalition called Accessing Resources MIT (ARM) is also in its early stages. The coalition responds to work done by the student organization, Class Awareness Support and Equality (CASE), and is in the process of completing an inventory of how MIT supports students in high economic need; assessing how those resources and services are advertised to students; and identifying any gaps and potential solutions for raising awareness about the resources that can help, especially among incoming students and their families.

Any students who have feedback or questions about existing or potential food insecurity programs can email

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