Food insecurity is a painful issue for many people, including Tufts students. Students come from varied socioeconomic backgrounds, meaning some can afford more food or larger meal plans than others. Economic hardship and stress can contribute to food insecurity for students, while other students never have to worry about money. The Swipe It Forward program, which started two years ago, provides meals to students who weren’t otherwise able to eat. While this program has the potential to help, limits on individual meal donations handicap its impact. The most any student can give is four meals.
Tufts Community Union Senate President Jacqueline Chen told the Daily in a phone interview that the Senate worked with Tufts Dining and the Office of Student Success and Advising to set up a meal bank. The program was motivated by the observation that students often have extra meals swipes left over at the end of a semester, while other students can’t get enough meals. Students who aren’t on the premium meal plan can donate up to four swipes; students on the premium meal can donate one meal and a guest swipe. While those with the most to give — students on premium plans — have the strictest limits on donations, the four-meal limit for other student donations places a hard cap on the number of meals available. At the time of writing, there were no meals available in the Swipe It Forward meal bank.
Still, Swipe It Forward is a good program; it helps students stay fed and avoid hunger. The anonymity provided to students requesting a swipe from the bank ensures that those who feel uncomfortable talking about food insecurity have privacy and dignity.
Chen explained that many students choose to opt out of the premium meal plan after freshman year. The Swipe It Forward program allows students on other, more limited meal plans a chance to socialize in the dining halls without anxiety over money. This marginally improves the social accessibility of spaces normally available at a cost.
Swipe It Forward has undergone changes since it began. Chen noted that initially, students were only able to request up to six meals per semester; this has been raised to 10 meals. Chen said she wants to make it possible for students to opt out of the premium program and give extra meals to the meal bank. Such a reform would expand the number of meals available through the Swipe It Forward program.
Chen emphasized the importance of donating to the meal bank. Students who are able to should donate meals in solidarity with classmates who go hungry. But Tufts should do more as well, by raising the donation cap from four meals to 10 meals, and by matching student donations with meal swipes provided by the university. Solving food insecurity shouldn’t be an effort led by individual donations; it should instead be headed by institutional commitments and collective social action. None of us should feel satisfied until all of us are fed.