After months of grassroots activism, the UC Santa Barbara Young Democratic Socialists of America and Associated Students Basic Needs Committee are working with dining hall executives to implement a pilot meal swipe rollover program at campus dining halls by the next academic year.

UCSB is one of only two UC campuses, along with UC Berkeley, that does not offer any form of meal swipe rollovers. Shiuan Cheng / Daily Nexus

Labeled the “234 step-up program,” Associated Students (A.S.) Senator and Chair of the Basic Needs Committee Alvin Wang proposed that up to two meals can be shared between students, up to three can be donated and up to four can be rolled over. 

“If you pay for 10 meals, you should be able to get ten meals,” second-year computer science major Wang said.

UCSB is one of only two UCs — besides UC Berkeley — that doesn’t allow for weekly unused meal swipes to roll over to the next week. According to the Young Democratic Socialists of America (YDSA) student canvassing of 160 students, 34% of students have gone without eating due to lacking meal swipes, and 64% have had to ration their meals. 

In February, YDSA issued a petition for UC Santa Barbara to allow for meal swipe rollover, meal swipe sharing and the reinstitution of a meal swipe donation program. It garnered over 2,200 signatories — 10% of the student population — and was endorsed by 10 other campus organizations. It remains open at the time of this article. 

The donation program was a pre-pandemic effort through a collaboration with the A.S. Food Bank, Housing and Dining Auxiliary Services (HDA) and a nonprofit called Swipe Out Hunger. The HDA circulated a form at dining halls asking students if they wanted to donate excess meal swipes, which was shared with Swipe Out Hunger at the end of the quarter. The non-profit would donate funds to A.S. Food Bank to buy the excess swipes at a subsidized price. 

“…Which is very messed up if you think about it. Like they wouldn’t have this donation program if it weren’t for this third party subsidizing and paying them for all these meal vouchers,” Wang said.

YDSA’s proposed pilot program would allow HDA to assess if meal swipe rollover can be implemented without taxing their operations, including increasing costs and stress on student dining hall workers.

“The reason why a pilot program is so necessary is because every single fear that HDA has mentioned — is going to increase costs, is going to increase stress on student dining laborers, is going to increase stress on staffers. That’s all speculation. It’s never been tested,” Wang said.

A.S. Basic Needs and the YDSA jointly imagined the pilot program because the dining commons claim they cannot fully implement rollovers without consequences.

The program was proposed at an April 19 meeting between YDSA and key HDA stakeholders as well as university administration, according to third-year political science major and YDSA co-chair Isabella Ferraro. Executive Director of Dining Jill Horst, Associate Vice Chancellor Willie Brown and Director of Student Life Katya Armistead were among the parties at the meeting. 

YDSA first met with the administration on March 1 to express their grievances and read student testimonies of food insecurity gathered from the petition. A week before, on Feb. 23, YDSA rallied for meal swipe reform in front of the campus dining hall office, reading out the testimonies and writing out “No one should go hungry” and “Feed us” in chalk. 

Each meal plan “accounts for ‘missed swipes,’” meaning HDA “factor[s] in the average swipes used to set the lowest price possible for our students, based on historic rates of missed meals for all residential meal plans,” University spokesperson Kiki Reyes explained in a statement to the Nexus.

Horst deferred all requests for comment to Reyes. 

Additionally, Reyes claimed moving to a rollover system would “raise the cost of the room and board package to factor in the costs of every meal swipe in the plan,” rather than charge the allegedly lower rate of the current meal plans. It would also reduce the University’s ability to “predict costs and prepare food efficiently and accurately.”

“While rollover is something that does benefit food insecure students, we’re not looking for a solution that increases the cost of the options for all students at UCSB,” Wang said.

According to a 2022-23 HDA report, the dining halls’ total $200 million expenses and revenues almost level out with about $700,000 left over. Any leftover revenue is reinvested back into Campus Dining operations, Reyes said.

Wang said Basic Needs had been exploring avenues to alleviate food insecurity, especially for undocumented and international students who do not qualify for CalFresh, and had the idea for dining hall meal swipe rollover. Due to the overlap with YDSA’s work, the two organizations decided to collaborate on the program on January 26. 

YDSA wants the pilot program to go through HDA rather than rely on students to uphold it due to turnover. Ferraro said the University gave a loose deadline for winter quarter, but YDSA says they are pushing for fall.

“We’ll see where we land.” fifth-year environmental studies and sociology double major and YDSA co-chair Caela Erickson Imbrogno said. “But we’re really trying to get this off the ground as soon as possible because we recognize that urgency.”

Imbrogno said YDSA does not intend to make any concessions at this point.

“We’re gonna fight really really hard to keep the things that are important in this project. We aren’t gonna come out on the other end like, ‘What was this all for?’,” she said.

The YDSA has sent its formalized pilot program to the university and is currently awaiting a response for another meeting. 

A version of this article appeared on p. 4 of the May 2, 2024 edition of the Daily Nexus.

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Lizzy Rager
Lizzy Rager (she/her) is the Assistant News Editor for the 2024-25 school year. She can be reached at lizzyrager@dailynexus.com