Swipes for the Homeless has facilitated the donation of more than 95,000 swipes worth of food since the club was founded in 2009. The majority of the donations go to UCLA students with unexpected financial burdens.
As of spring quarter, the club began stocking both UCLA food pantries in the Student Activities Center and the University Religious Center to address food insecurity issues on campus. The UCLA club also provides dining hall vouchers for the UCLA Economic Crisis Response Team, a UCLA Student Affairs group which Chancellor Gene Block established in 2008 after the recession.
About two-thirds of the funds raised through swipes are spent stocking the food closet in the Student Activities Center. The Community Programs Office runs the Food Closet program, which provides students with free food such as protein bars, canned food and Vitamin Water. Club members collect food from Bruin Cafe worth the full value of the donated swipes and deliver it to the food closets.
“Having a food closet on campus brings security to people,” said Emily Vargas, a third-year biology student and co-president of Swipes for the Homeless. “Food is vital.”
The second food pantry is located at the University Religious Center. The center organizes the closet, which offers similar services to students.
Vargas said the reason she chose to join the club her first year at UCLA was because she didn’t realize food insecurity and homelessness were problems for some UCLA students.
“Being Bruins, being a family, we need to help out family first, to make sure (hungry students) have breakfast, lunch and dinner,” Vargas said.
Maria Blandizzi, the interim dean of students at UCLA, said an increase in students came forward and sought financial help since Block formed the program. Swipes for the Homeless is currently its sole contributor.
This year, 1,138 students received meal vouchers from the program, Blandizzi said. About a third of the swipes the club collects each quarter is converted to meal vouchers for the program at a two-swipes-to-one-voucher ratio, so students can access dining halls. The swipes are collected during 10th week dinner periods.
She added program directors purchase meal vouchers from Associated Students UCLA with program funds when they run out of vouchers from Swipes for the Homeless. The club’s contribution allows the program to allocate funds previously used for vouchers to other student living expenses.
Club members also purchase bread, peanut butter and jelly to make sandwiches for homeless individuals in Westwood. The Sandwiches for Smiles initiative, which began a year ago, made 50 sandwiches the first time it was held in Hillel at UCLA. Students made 500 sandwiches this quarter after the project was moved to the Hill.
Club members distributed about 50 sandwiches to the Westwood homeless community and brought about 500 to a local shelter called the Ocean Park Community Center.
Swipes for the Homeless protects the anonymity of students who use the food closets. Vargas said one anonymous student shared that her family had been living in a shelter for two quarters while she attended UCLA, and every day she went to the food pantry to get them their next meal.
“It’s easy to turn a blind eye and just keep walking,” Vargas said. “Someone just sitting next to you in class could be hungry.”