Presidential Praise for Fighting Hunger
By Mary Daily
Published Mar 15, 2012 10:17 AM
In true Bruin spirit, a group of UCLA students won recognition at the White House recently for their work in helping feed the homeless. The group, Swipes for the Homeless, is among five student organizations that received the most votes online in the nationwide Champions of Change Challenge.
The purpose of the competition, according to President Obama, was to shine a light on student groups that are "helping our country out-innovate, out-educate and out-build the rest of the world." He said he hoped it would inspire "Americans of all ages to get involved in their communities."
UCLA students established Swipes for the Homeless in 2009 to help the hungry. The group converts the dollar value of unused residential student meals—"meal swipes" contained on prepaid student debit cards—into food. In 2011, students donated more than 11,500 swipes, which covered the purchase of more than 4,000 pounds of food that was distributed to homeless shelters and homeless individuals living on the streets of Los Angeles. Some of the food also goes to UCLA's Food Closet, which serves hungry students with limited financial resources.
"Our hope is to show how simple, innovative and collaborative ideas can make such a large impact on communities throughout the world," says UCLA senior Bryan Pezeshki, a founder of Swipes. "Living on campus takes you out of the perspective of what is going on in the surrounding community, and students don't realize how great the problem is in Los Angeles."
The program succeeds because although students are unable to roll over unused swipes from one quarter to the next, they can donate them at special Swipes for the Homeless locations. Some students have as many as 100 swipes leftover at the end of a quarter.
Since its founding, Swipes has expanded its activities to include campus food drives and fundraisers, as well as the collection and distribution of surplus food from residential dining halls, campus fast-food eateries and community businesses. The group also holds an annual Thanksgiving dinner on campus for students and their families who can't afford a holiday meal.
Buoyed by the success of the student group, Pezeshki and Thach Nguyen '11 have formed a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization by the same name. Currently there are 10 chapters at other universities in the U.S. and abroad. Since their White House event, Pezshki says they've already received inquiries from ten more institutions wanting to participate.