According to a 2017 study by Dr. Betsy Anderson Steeves--a professor in the University of Tennessee’s department of nutrition--around 33% of students in the UT system of schools experienced food insecurity. At UT Knoxville, that number was 31.9%.
Enter UT’s chapter of Swipe Out Hunger. Over the last nine years, Swipe Out Hunger has worked across the country to address the problem of hunger among college students. Now, UT’s chapter, which was started this semester, aims to raise awareness of food insecurity during this year’s Hunger and Homelessness Awareness Week.
Founded in 2010, Swipe Out Hunger started as a college project at UCLA. Rachel Sumekh, a co-founder of the organization, went on to become its CEO in 2013 and has since presided over a rapid expansion. The group has partnered with multinational food service providers, like Aramark and Sodexo, and is now a leading nonprofit fighting food insecurity on college campuses in America.
Swipe Out Hunger has also partnered with over 85 campuses in 32 states. In 2016, UT activated the Big Orange Meal Share, which allowed students to donate their unused guest meal swipes to students in need. This year, Tennessee’s chapter is carrying the fight against hunger onto campus by hosting a series of events throughout the upcoming week.
On Friday, Nov. 15, Sumekh will give a presentation at 1 p.m. This is followed by this year’s edition of the Faces of Hunger film series at 6 p.m. on Nov. 20 and a lecture by Anderson Steeves at 3 p.m. on Nov. 21. All three events will be held in room 169 in the Student Union.
Owen Flomberg, the founder and president of Swipe Out Hunger UTK (SOH UTK), talked about the group’s objectives on campus.
“There are multiple parts of our mission: the education component, which was a lot of what these programs we’re putting on are focusing on, but also awareness of the issue as well as the resources that are available,” Flomberg said.
Flomberg explained the organization’s plans for the upcoming week of awareness.
“We’ll be tabling in various locations across campus, and partnering with organizations like Kappa Alpha Pi pre-law and government fraternity, and some other committees across campus. . . at that table there’s gonna be a petition that you can sign because we’re doing a lot of advocacy to our state legislators. Ultimately, they have a lot of control over this issue, and we want them to a.) be aware that student food insecurity is an issue, and b.) start looking for solutions to alleviate it,” Flomberg said.
Kaylee Sheppard, the vice president of SOH UTK, explained that the week offers a great opportunity for students to learn about the effects of hunger.
“I am hoping this week will expose more students to the food insecurity issues that are on our campus and others in the UT system. We have some really cool speakers and events lined up and I am excited to bring even more awareness to food insecurity,” Sheppard said.
Both Flomberg and Sheppard were co-sponsors of the Swipe Out Hunger Bill last year as the East Area and College of Arts and Sciences SGA senators, respectively. The bill called for a “Swipe-In” option to be added to MyUTK, donating a student’s extra guest meal swipes to the Big Orange Meal Share at the end of the semester.
Flomberg and Sheppard are also among UT’s delegates to the Tennessee Intercollegiate State Legislature, where they are proposing legislation requiring larger publicly-funded universities in Tennessee to set up food pantries.
Students interested in joining Swipe Out Hunger UTK can reach out on Instagram to @swipeouthunger_utk or send an email to email@example.com.