College Students Swipe Meals for Homeless

Photo Courtesy Swipes for the Homeless

As a Gen-Xer (someone born between 1965 and 1980), I’ve always been jealous and a bit suspicious of the generation that followed mine. Millennials (men and women born after 1980) get all the attention with their do-gooder habits to save the world.

“Are they really that good?” I asked. “Are they really the most giving generation?”

It turns out that maybe they are.

Phil & Co., a New York marketing agency that recently held a contest to give a worthy nonprofit a strategic marketing campaign, introduced me to the winner: Swipes for the Homeless.

Founded by two UCLA students in 2009, Swipes for the Homeless has donated more than 35,000 pounds of food to the homeless in its hub city of Los Angeles. The idea is simple but brilliant, as it taps something students have to give (unlike money and time): unused swipes from their meal plans that expire at the end of each academic term. To donate, students just need to sign a form, and the Swipes for the Homeless team takes care of the rest.

I was curious how Swipes for the Homeless converts the unused swipes into food they could donate and transport to a shelter. I had images of them piling up food on a cafeteria tray like Bluto in the movie Animal House. Swipes for the Homeless is a lot more sophisticated than that. They negotiated an agreement with the university on what will be donated with the unused swipes.

Participating in Swipes for the Homeless only requires a signature from the student, but there is much work done behind the scenes. Swipes for the Homeless is completely run by volunteers. They pick up the food, pack the trucks, and deliver it to shelters.

The really exciting thing about Swipes for Homeless is that they’re expanding to other colleges, and not just here in the United States! More than 30 campuses are in the process of developing a Swipes program, and Swipes is already in place at the University of Southern California, the University of California in Berkeley, the University of Texas-San Marcos, and the University of Paris in France.

Co-founder Thack “Tak” Nguyen’s goal is to make Swipes for the Homeless a memorable part of the college experience.

“We want donating swipes to be as typical as living in a dorm or eating in a dining hall,” he said. “We’ve been able to do so much good with so little capital. It’s mind-boggling for us to imagine how much we could help the homeless with the right media campaign and agency to back us.”

That’s where Phil & Co. will help. But they aren’t the only ones to take notice of Swipes for the Homeless. The White House has recognized them as Champions of Change.

Swipes for the Homeless is a innovative and powerful example of how Millennials are giving back. For these college students, the ‘M’ of their generation stands for meals.