University of Minnesota pools meal passes to feed the hungriest students

At the U, meals are going to waste while students go hungry. But there is a promising solution.

At the U, meals are going to waste while students go hungry. But there is a promising solution. Marlin Levison, Star Tribune

There are lots of students that go hungry at the University of Minnesota. 

In 2015 the U's Boynton Health Service found that 10 percent of students -- pitting tuition, textbooks, and housing costs against feeding themselves -- experienced food shortages. One in six had anxiety about their food running out before they could afford to buy more.

Meanwhile, those who purchase meal plans typically get a set of meals per week, plus 10 guest passes. If dining hours clash with class schedules and students fail to eat everything they paid for, or don't use all their guest passes by the end of the semester, that's just money wasted. There are no refunds.

Swipe Out Hunger, a pilot program launched at the Twin Cities campus on Monday, would redistribute some of those unused meals. For the next two weeks, students can donate up to all 10 of their guest passes -- valued at about $9 a meal -- to peers who need them most. Students who find themselves wasting away on a diet of ramen can apply for them at Boynton Health Services.

"Everybody goes through this period in college where they're just eating ramen noodles, and it's a goal of mine to change that universal idea that you will starve, you will suffer in college by not eating enough," says bio science junior David Begelman, who spent the past year negotiating with food service provider Aramark and the administration to bring Swipe Out Hunger to the U.

"Hopefully, through this program, students will start talking about how maybe they're not getting enough to eat, and that there are resources on campus they can get."

Begelman hopes that if the pilot program is successful, it could run longer, and allow students to donate their unused weekly meals as well as their guest passes.

So far, it seems to be off to a strong start. On Monday alone, students donated more than 300 meals, worth about $2,700.