Mercyhurst joins national quest to Swipe Out Hunger

Wednesday, January 13, 2021

swipe out hungerIn the coming days, thousands of students will return to the Mercyhurst University campus to begin spring semester. Some of them will be hungry.

That college students could go to class with stomachs aching and heads pounding due to hunger is a problem that has long flown under the national radar, exacerbated further by the current COVID-19 pandemic.

“I’m struggling to pay my bills and eat,” said one Mercyhurst student, who asked not to be identified. The student has been getting assistance from the university’s food pantry, which provides free staples to students in need. Recently, the university chose to increase its efforts by joining the national Swipe Out Hunger campaign. 

According to the nonprofit, “one in three college students faces food insecurity nationally; the stigma around being low-income and shut out from a communal space like the dining hall has kept the conversation out of mind for many college and dining administrators.”

Not so at Mercyhurst, where the university’s Community Engagement and OneCard offices have partnered with food service provider Parkhurst Dining to enable students and employees with extra meal swipes on their dining cards to donate them to their peers. 

At last count, the Mercyhurst initiative had obtained nearly 1,400 donated meal swipes, which students in need can access confidentially when they return to campus Jan. 25. 

The impetus for Mercyhurst’s involvement in Swipe Out Hunger came from John Patterson, director of protective services and the OneCard office, who installed the internal software and created the means for students to use the GET app to donate meals. (Details for donating and accessing campaign funds are available on the university HUB.) Subsequently, Organizational Leadership graduate students of Dr. Anne Zaphiris and colleagues in Community Engagement partnered to bring the project to fruition. 

In addition to the food pantry and Swipe Out Hunger program, the Mercy Market is available for students lacking access to basic necessities, unable to afford new books every semester, and/or in need of professional wardrobe items.

“We don’t always know someone’s full situation or story, but we know through actions of mercy we can develop ways to support our students in need,” said Mercyhurst Executive Director of Community Engagement Colin Hurley. 

Over the last 10 years, Swipe Out Hunger has scaled its operation and other innovative anti-hunger programs to more than 120 colleges in 39 states. Emily Kass, community engagement manager for the nonprofit, had this to say about Mercyhurst’s involvement: “We're so excited to hear about the great success of the inaugural campaign kickoff and are looking forward to the distribution of these meals to those who need them. Our sincerest gratitude to the whole Mercyhurst community for partnering with us here at Swipe Out Hunger in an effort to end college student hunger." 

In addition to Patterson, Zaphiris, and Hurley, Mercyhurst employees instrumental in organizing the Swipe Out Hunger program on campus include Bethany Woods, associate director of community engagement; Dr. Laura Zirkle, vice president for student life, and Dr. Greg Baker, vice president for mission.