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Temple Students “Swipe Out Hunger” in Philly
Philly

Temple Students “Swipe Out Hunger” in Philly

During AaronRey Ebreo’s freshman year at Temple University in 2016, he noticed someone carrying boxes of food out of Morgan Hall. Curious, Ebreo approached him and asked what he was doing.

“He just told me he was using his unused meal swipes to buy leftovers either for himself or to resell them,” said Ebreo, now in his junior year studying biology.

“There’s nothing wrong with that, but I saw that an opportunity to benefit a population in need of those items.”

– AaronRey Ebreo

At the time, he had a 25 Premium Meal Plan. This plan allowed him to receive 25 meals each week at the university’s dining halls. Instead of letting those extra meals go to waste, he used leftover swipes to buy food to share with people throughout the city.

His kind gesture led to the formation of a larger project to promote his mission. Ebreo enlisted the help of friends and fellow students to create Swipes for Philadelphia.

Photo courtesy of Alyssa Te

Using leftover meal swipes to feed others is impactful in a city like Philadelphia. According to a 2017 report from Pew Charitable Trusts, more than a quarter of Philadelphia residents live below the poverty line. In a 2018 report by Sara Goldrick-Rab for Hope 4 College, more than one-third of four-year college students and almost half of community college students dealt with food insecurity in the prior 30 days.

Swipes for Philadephia’s humble beginnings

Visibility was a large obstacle Swipes for Philadelphia faced when it first began because it was not an official student organization.

“We had to be careful about what we did on campus,” said Bikramjit Benipal, External Vice President of Swipes for Philadelphia. “We couldn’t promote or put flyers anywhere.

“We usually posted on Facebook pages but because we weren’t an official organization, no one knew about us,” he said.

Once rogue and consisting of a few members, Swipes became official during the Fall 2018 semester. Through tabling, they managed to get the word out.

College Movements to fight food insecurity

Swipes for Philadelphia is a part of a larger movement to combat food insecurity on college campuses. The organization partnered with Swipe Out Hunger, a national nonprofit that encourages college students to donate their leftover meal swipes. There is also a chapter of Swipe Out Hunger at the University of Pennsylvania.

Although the chapter at Temple University is not the first, it has inspired the formation of chapters at other universities in the country like Boston University.

Photo courtesy of Alyssa Te

The organization hosts general body meetings on topics such as food insecurity, homelessness, and the struggles low-wage workers face.

Students do not need a meal plan to join Swipes to be a part of the organization and can apply to be a member.

Members and non-members alike can lend a hand and distribute non-perishable food and clothing to those experiencing homelessness in Philadelphia. Volunteers start at City Hall and break off into teams, splitting off towards Jefferson University Hospital and Chinatown.

“We didn’t want it to just be exclusive in Temple. We wanted to combat food insecurity in Philadelphia itself.”

– Bikramjit Benipal

During the first distribution event of the semester, participants distributed over 400 items in a few hours.

Photo courtesy of Alyssa Te

“We’re receiving a large number of items now than what we initially had,” Ebreo said. “The amount of time it takes for us to give out these items is actually being reduced because we have so many volunteers wanting to be a part of this.”

Their regular distribution events have led to volunteers becoming familiar faces to those they have been serving. They now have been prepackaging their donations so everyone can get a fair share.

Not only are they tackling food insecurity, the organization is also combating food waste. Any food that was not sold or used would have eventually been thrown away when it could have fed someone else.

Next Steps for Swipes for Philadelphia

Looking towards the future, the students aim to do more outreach in North Philly and possibly collaborate with the Temple Community Garden in the summer. They hope to partner with students at UPenn and to distribute in West Philadelphia.

“The next big thing is to actually make an online donation program at Temple,” Ebreo said.

They are also trying to encourage Aramark to implement a meal swipe donation program so students can donate unused meal swipes to the food insecure student population. Aramark is Temple’s food provider.

The organization still has room to grow, but Ebreo is proud to see the leaders and change-makers sprouting from this project.

“My dad suffered a time of food insecurity and homelessness when he first came to America,” Ebreo said. “From his stories, he encouraged me to give back to the local community.”

“Those conversations were the starting point for all of this and now I get to see it come to fruition,” he said.

Broke in Philly

Green Philly is one of more than 20 news organizations producing Broke in Philly, a collaborative reporting project on economic mobility. Read more at brokeinphilly.org or follow at @BrokeInPhilly

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Siani Colon
Siani is a junior journalism major with a minor in Latin American Studies at Temple University. She is an editorial fellow at Motivos Magazine and also works for student publications like The Temple News and 14th Street Magazine. During her downtime, Siani loves watching documentaries on Netflix. View all posts by Siani Colon

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