Nonprofit Seeks to 'Democratize Dining Halls' to End College Hunger

Rachel Sumekh, Swipe Out Hunger's founder and CEO
November 6, 2019

Universities are often thought of as elite institutions of learning, not places rife with hunger where students face routine instances of food insecurity. Yet one organization, Swipe Out Hunger, is tackling the issue head-on.

"Our goal has always been to democratize dining halls," Rachel Sumekh, Swipe Out Hunger's founder and CEO, told Cheddar.

In 2010, Sumekh founded the nonprofit with her friends at UCLA to address the widespread hunger that they witnessed throughout the student body. The solution was simple: students with campus dining plans donate their extra meals to a fund that is used to help low-income students get free access to dining halls. Today, the program has been expanded to over 85 universities in 33 states, with colleges ranging from UC Berkeley to the University of Vermont.

"Students were hungry and feeling isolated," said Sumekh, adding that with "access to meals [students] can go to class and do well on tests, instead of focusing on their grumbling stomach."

A recent survey from Temple University's Hope Center for College, Community, and Justice found that 41 percent of respondents at four-year universities had experienced food insecurity in the past 30 days. The study, which surveyed roughly 86,000 students, moreover found that 50 percent of students said they could not afford balanced meals.

Swipe Out Hunger also seeks to address the crisis by working with lawmakers. In May, for instance, the organization helped push through New Jersey's Hunger-Free Campus Act, which appropriated $1 million to support Swipe Out Hunger and other initiatives at universities across the state.

"Your experience with food is more than just the calories," Sumekh said. "We don't think that a student who is hustling, working so hard to get through school, should have that be a negative experience. Food should only be a positive experience."