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Students entering Nelson Dining Hall tap their student ID to spend one meal swipe.

Donated meal swipes combat local food insecurity

Food insecurity has long been a problem in Athens County and the surrounding region, with 20.4% of residents suffering from food insecurity, according to Athens County is consistently recorded as one of the most food insecure counties in Ohio. 

Many incentives have been taken to help combat this concern. From donation centers to food drives, there are a variety of ways to help those suffering from food insecurity.

As the biggest money maker in Athens, Ohio University has offered a way for students to help solve this ongoing problem without even stepping off campus for over a decade. All three of OU’s on-campus markets allow students with Flex 14 and Flex 20 meal plans to use unused meal swipes to donate products to a couple different organizations.

“They're donating products, but they use their meal swipes they purchase from us, and then we have two or three places that we distribute to for them,” Kent Scott, associate director of auxiliaries operations, said. “Athens Food Rescue is one. We also have Good Works, (which) we have a 10-plus year relationship with, and then we also do Cats Cupboard.”

Signs can be found around OU’s three campus markets telling students to ask the cashier about how they can donate swipes, but many students are unaware of this feature. 

“A lot of people do not know that they can donate their swipes,” Savanna Jones, a freshman studying aviation and a student leader at OU’s campus markets, said. “Usually, we're training our cashiers to ask people towards Saturday when they expire.”

Recently, initiatives have been taken to improve awareness on the ability to donate meal swipes. These methods include additional training with cashiers to communicate more with students at the registers.

“It kind of started last semester. We’ve been telling our cashiers, ‘Hey, let’s try to get people to donate’ since a lot of people don’t know about it,” Jones said.

Students have two different options when it comes to donating unused meal swipes. They can either have the market staff pick out items that are equivalent to the cash amount of meal swipes the student has, or the student can pick items themselves that they would like to donate while paying with their meal swipes.

“I know what we're donating right now is mostly non-perishable items,” Corrin Switzer, a junior studying commercial photography and an office assistant at Boyd Market, said. “Canned fruit, ramen noodles, dry goods, planned meals, that kind of stuff is what we mostly donate now.”

Despite the recently ramped-up promotion, campus employees still believe more should be done to improve and showcase the donation program.

“I think it's something that we really need to promote and be better about promoting in markets,” Switzer said. “I think that it's something that we need to go beyond just trying to help food insecurity in students but also helping food insecurity in the community. I think the university should be more upfront about taking steps toward that.”

It is only students with Flex Meal Plans who can donate meal swipes, leaving students on Traditional Meal Plans unable to contribute unused swipes.

“I feel like we should figure something out to be able to allow them because, usually, a lot of traditional meal swipe people usually have more swipes to donate,” Jones said.

Despite the lack of awareness, the ability to donate meal swipes has benefited many organizations that help work to fight food insecurity in Athens County.

“It's pretty simple, and really it's about offering options for good causes,” Scott said. “We want students to feel good about what they do.”


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