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Iranian Jewish Life in Los Angeles: Past and Present

Saba Soomekh, Author

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Swipe Out Hunger: How We Work

The initial steps Bryan Pezeshki and Rachel Sumekh took to collect leftover meal swipes from UCLA students involved asking students to purchase food from the dining halls, via swipes, and donate the food to the Swipes volunteers waiting at tables outside of the dining halls. Sumekh explains that the original method utilized by Swipes for the Homeless in 2009 was, by UCLA Dining standards, “illegal,” and prompted the refinement of the swipes drive. Sumekh recalls when one of the UCLA dining directors abruptly disrupted their provisional Swipes drive by smashing his fist into a to-go box full of food donated by a student and proclaimed he had enough of the newfound organization’s disregard for UCLA dining rules, and that “this was not happening on [his] campus.”

Eventually, through long and arduous negotiations with UCLA dining, Swipes for the Homeless established a protocol in which students would stop buying food from UCLA dining halls and to-go restaurants accepting meal swipes and donating the ready-made food to the Swipes drive. Instead, UCLA students would donate their meal swipes, which dining would convert into food and then provide for Swipes volunteers to deliver the food to local pantries and food closets.

The student meal swipes were collected from students via their signature and student ID during the table drive that typically takes place during the end of the academic quarter or semester. Once all donations have been collected, the total number of swipes is converted into pounds of food, based on an agreement made with the university dining system. Food items may range from non-perishables, such as ramen noodles and Gatorade drinks, to fresh produce and peanut butter and jelly sandwiches. Swipes volunteers then collect the donated food, pack it into trucks, and deliver the food items to local shelters, food pantries and the university food closets available to all food-insecure students on campus. At UCLA, the SAC (Student Activities Center) food pantry is filled quarterly, providing all students with access to non-perishable and fresh food items all year round, while still respecting students’ anonymity.

Sumekh shares that although the Swipes relationship with dining has developed into a successful partnership, dining systems within universities still oppose a certain amount of resistance that interferes with the organization’s development. Still, Sumekh believes that the resistance is welcome as it proves Swipes’ constant relevance and evolution on university campuses.
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