Near the end of spring quarter, almost every Cal Poly freshman faces an important financial question: How do you spend your leftover meal plan dollars? A new Cal Poly club, Swipe Out Hunger, has been raising awareness for an answer that provides thousands of meals to students in need.
According to a California State University (CSU) basic needs study, about one in four students on state university campuses are food insecure, which is defined as lacking reliable access to a sufficient quantity of food. In response, Swipe Out Hunger was founded by third-year aerospace engineering student Jessica Gutknecht and partner Sanjana Gupta. With the surprising statistics in mind, Swipe Out Hunger is fighting to reduce that number at Cal Poly.
For Gutknecht and Swipe Out Hunger, one opportunity has been overlooked at the end of every school year: student meal plans. Students often have tens to hundreds of dollars left on their PolyCard by the time school ends. If you don’t spend your last dollars, they disappear — they’re non-transferable and non-refundable.
“What happens a lot is people realize they have all of this money left over and it’s a mad rush to buy things,” Gutknecht said. “Like, ‘I’m going to buy groceries for me, or for my parents, or go buy pots and pans.’”.
Often, this panic spending can be frivolous, especially when the money could be going toward those students who need it. That is why Swipe Out Hunger has been active in promoting Campus Dining’s new Mustang Meal Share Program.
“The Mustang Meal Share Program lets freshmen donate their leftover dining dollars at the end of the year to students who need them,” Gutknecht said. “For me, it’s so much better to know, if I have $20 left over, I can donate it, and it’s going to someone who needs it.”
The meal sharing program was received well across campus after its inception. Swipe Out Hunger made its presence known at Cal Poly by presenting in classes to freshman and attending local events. So far, the response has been overwhelmingly positive.
“The program started and raised over 2,000 meals that have already been handed out to students this year,” Gutknecht said. “When students hear that their peers are hungry — that they need the support — they’re pretty quick to get involved and donate.”
Despite student sentiment being in favor of the program, it was surprisingly difficult for the Swipe Out Hunger club to get their initiative approved. The leftover meal plan money was a reliable source of money for Cal Poly that was allocated in yearly budgets, and in order to turn that money into donations, Gutknecht had to work with the Dean of Students. Negotiating from two to ten meals, Swipe Out Hunger has opened the doors for students to donate up to $65 worth of meal plans.
“We’ve gotten really far in our fight, but now, trying to remove the donation limit is our goal,” Gutknecht said.
Meanwhile, Swipe Out Hunger is taking on the fight against food insecurity from all angles. Gutknecht and other club members volunteer at the food pantry on campus and the Food Bank Coalition of San Luis Obispo in addition to working with the Mustang Meal Share Program.
“Fighting hunger is something I’m passionate about,” says Gutknecht. “Freshman year, seeing I had all of this money that I felt was going toward nothing made me want to get involved. I wanted to know, with all of the money that I’m putting toward the campus, where that leftover was going and that it was helping other students.”
As an aerospace engineering student, Gutknecht finds that her involvement in Swipe Out Hunger is a valuable part of her “Learn by Doing” experience at Cal Poly.
“For me, it’s an ethics thing,” Gutknecht said. “While I learn about engineering, it’s a reminder that these are real people that I’m designing and building for. They have lives, they’re not just a number. It’s easy to look at the big picture and forget what should be the focus: the individuals.”