Swipe it Forward meal donation program returns to dining halls

Students can once again ask for a free meal swipe at select NYU dining halls after the Swipe it Forward program resumed on Feb. 21.

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Joshua Becker

NYU’s Swipe it Forward program helps combat food insecurity, but didn’t start until a month into the semester. (Photo by Joshua Becker)

Arnav Binaykia, Deputy Managing Editor

Swipe it Forward, a food donation program that allows any student to ask for a free meal swipe at select NYU dining halls, resumed on Feb. 21. The program, run in collaboration with NYU’s student government, operates using meal swipes donated by students with meal plans and is one of the university’s flagship initiatives to combat food insecurity on campus.

Although the spring 2022 semester began on Jan. 24 — more than four weeks ago — Swipe it Forward was unavailable to students until this week. Frequent users of the program who were turned away at dining facilities when they asked for donated swipes spoke out against the deferred launch online, noting that students facing food insecurity need continuous support.

Mehrin Ali, the chair of NYU’s Student Government Assembly, said that Swipe it Forward has always started a month into the semester. Ali is a senator at-large for students experiencing food and basic needs insecurities, and one of the student representatives who helped put the program in place when it first launched in 2019.

For the past two years, student leaders have been trying to work with NYU dining administrators to increase the program’s coverage.

“Being a student leader with no dining [plan], I’m also frustrated about why it is taking so long,” Ali said. “I’m also hungry right now. I haven’t eaten today because I don’t have the resources to get food on campus. I do hope that student programs and initiatives like Swipe it Forward become institutionalized, so that it isn’t on the student leaders to have to ensure that the program continues on in the next semester.”

According to a statement to WSN co-written by Ali and Kathrina O’Mahony, senior director of NYU’s Division of Campus Services, the program must go into effect weeks after the beginning of a semester to allow for a bank of donations to be set aside for its operation. The statement also directed students to seek out other programs targeting food insecurity on campus when Swipe it Forward is unavailable.

“If they are in need of emergency food assistance, they should reach out to NYU’s Courtesy Meals program, which provides free, short-term food support to any enrolled student in need throughout the entire year,” the statement reads. “To ensure students have a better understanding going forward about both Swipe It Forward [and] other initiatives, we have added information on NYU nutritional support initiatives to our website.”

Students have faced other issues caused by the donation system Swipe it Forward relies on. In December 2021, student government representative Shamon Lawrence told WSN that not enough students were donating to the program.

[Read more: Students use NYU’s free meal programs, but not enough donate

“It puts the program in a deficit of thousands of students,” Lawrence said in December. “The increase in demand is clear that more students are experiencing food insecurity. With that, coupled with a more robust campaign, advertising and being in person, I certainly think that the numbers don’t truly match what we can achieve.”

Swipe it Forward has since recovered from this deficit, according to Ali and O’Mahony, likely due to a surge of donations in the final weeks of the fall 2021 semester. As a result, the program currently has a surplus of donations, which will help fund it this semester.

In response to a later question about plans to coincide the resumption of the program with the start of the semester, O’Mahony said that administrators will continue to meet with the student government during the spring semester to review.

Contact Arnav Binaykia at [email protected]