Editor’s note: This story was updated March 5.
Leaders of a UCLA student organization that has helped alleviate hunger for thousands are heading to the White House to be honored on March 15 for their innovation, determination, and engagement with a Champions of Change Challenge award.
Swipes for the Homeless is among five student organizations that received the most votes online in the nationwide Champions of Change Challenge last week. UCLA and the other top vote-getters will also be featured by mtvU and MTV Act and will be given the opportunity to host an episode of mtvU’s signature program, “Dean’s List.”
“All across America, college and university students are helping our country out-innovate, out-educate and out-build the rest of the world,” President Obama said in announcing the challenge last fall. “I hope this challenge shines a light on their efforts and inspires Americans of all ages to get involved in their communities.”
The competition’s winners are being determined by a vote by the general public, which is currently taking place online through Saturday, March 3. The five student groups that receive the most votes will be invited to the White House for official recognition.
UCLA’s Swipes for the Homeless was established by students in 2009 as an innovative approach to helping the hungry. In partnership with UCLA’s Office of Residential Life and UCLA Dining Services, the organization converts the dollar value of unused residential student meals — “meal swipes” contained on pre-paid student debit cards — into food.
Because meal swipes cannot be rolled over from one academic semester to the next, students often have swipes remaining. In the final weeks of each academic semester, Swipes for the Homeless sets up locations throughout campus where students can donate their leftover swipes and learn about other steps they can take to help alleviate hunger and homelessness.
The organization then puts the donated swipes towards the purchase of thousands of pounds of nutritious foods that are distributed to homeless shelters and to homeless individuals living on the streets throughout the Los Angeles area.
In 2011, students donated more than 11,500 swipes, which went to the purchase of more than 4,000 pounds of food.
“Our hope is to show how simple, innovative and collaborative ideas can make such a large impact on communities throughout the world,” said UCLA senior Bryan Pezeshki, one of the founders of Swipes.
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. And serving as inspiration for other campuses, Swipes now boasts chapters at UC Berkeley, UC Irvine, USC, the University of Texas at San Marcos and the Université de Paris in France.