Beginning next week, UCSB’s new student group Swipes for the Houseless will make it possible for students with dining commons meal plans to donate one of their meals to provide food for someone in need.
Co-founded by first-year UCSB students Shannon Mirshokri and Alexandra Guthy, Swipes for the Houseless is a chapter of Swipes for the Homeless, a non-profit organization first established at UCLA in 2009.
From Feb. 11-15, Swipes will have a table outside of the De La Guerra and Ortega Dining Commons during lunch and dinner hours where students can sign up to donate a meal swipe and talk to group members about getting involved with the new project. For each signature, one sack lunch will be delivered to homeless individuals at Casa Esperanza and other Santa Barbara-area shelters on March 2. Because Swipes is still only a pilot program at UCSB, the group can only collect up to 150 swipe donations this week, and only one for each person who signs up.
UCSB Swipes is also working closely with the Community Affairs Board and Resident Housing Association in order to integrate the new club into the campus environment. If enough students sign up, each group will sponsor the resources needed to provide 75 meals each to supply the 150 lunches needed.
Mirshokri said she and her fellow group members have spent a great deal of time and effort developing Swipes over the past two quarters.
“I’m almost always working on Swipes — all of first quarter we were working on getting it approved. We had to write a proposal, then a memo of understanding; [we] had to write up all these things and get some support before getting approval,” Mirshokri said. “Someone is running the Facebook page, and someone is creating the flyers, so we are putting a lot of energy into building a successful organization.”
Swipes for the Homeless first took form at UCLA in 2005, when first-year student Jonathan Lee asked students to donate dining swipes to feed the homeless in downtown Los Angeles. Two other UCLA students, Bryan Pezeshki and Thach Nguyen co-founded Swipes for the Homeless as an official organization in 2009. Swipes now has over 10 chapters, including groups at USC, UC Berkeley and even the University of Paris, France.
Nguyen said he is eager to see students at UCSB working on a new chapter of Swipes and advised organizers to promote the program as much as possible.
“I would definitely say that UCSB should make sure to market it appropriately, and raise awareness about [Swipes] because right now, probably a lot of students are wondering what it is, whereas at UCLA, we have many people now who know about the organization, and are very passionate about providing support,” Nguyen said. “What is really amazing is when we find how charitable people are, inspired by what a success this was and asking how they can help and be involved.”
While each chapter of Swipes has the same basic mission, Nguyen said each campus organization has unique opportunities to expand services and find innovative new forms of donation.
“With other chapters, we try to set them up, prepare and show them how to create a successful program. From there, our mission is to get them to a place where they feel empowered, and have the freedom to get creative,” Nguyen said.
Since its beginnings, Swipes for the Homeless has won numerous awards and received prestigious acknowledgement. On March 16, 2012, President Barack Obama recognized the organization as the winner of the Campus Champions of Change Challenge, hosting Nguyen and other members at the White House. Swipes has also been named the Most Influential College Organization at the 2012 Stay Classy Awards and was crowned New York’s Phil and Co. PHILfactor Winner, which awarded the organization a pro bono marketing campaign.
Mirshokri said the program is an easy and convenient way for students to contribute to the community, and provides a way to salvage the many unused meal swipes that go to waste.
“We want to alleviate hunger and help homeless people in Isla Vista, and because Isla Vista is a city that has been overrun by us, I think it would be really nice if we gave back. It’s really easy, doesn’t take a lot of effort to donate one swipe. Just write your name, sign off and skip a meal for a week,” Mirshokri said.
A version of this article appeared on page 3 of February 7th, 2013’s print edition of the Nexus.