The second week of November marks Hunger and Homelessness Awareness week. From Nov. 11 to Nov. 18, UNC Charlotte places an emphasis on promoting food security for students. The week begins with the opportunity for students to get involved by signing a pledge to provide awareness for the hungry and homeless. The Second Harvest Food Bank is providing a space for students to volunteer on Nov. 13 and 15 to collect donations to distribute to those in need in the community. A screening of the documentary, “A Place at the Table,” which broadens the understanding of hunger and homelessness within the Charlotte community, will be held on Nov. 14, and an overnight simulation called a “sleepout” will be held the next day to show what it is like to sleep on the streets. Finally, to wrap up the week’s events, The Jamil Niner Student Pantry will give tours of their facilities to educate the community about their mission and how to volunteer. The week is sponsored by the National Coalition for the Homeless and the National Student Campaign Against Hunger & Homelessness.

These organizations believe that students should worry about their grades, not how they will get their next meal. The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) defines food insecurity “as a lack of consistent access to enough food for an active, healthy life.” Sadly, many college students suffer from food insecurity. According to a recent study conducted by Temple University and The Hope Center, of the 43,000 college students surveyed, 36% say they are food insecure. Another 36% say they are housing insecure, while 9% report being homeless. The Hope Center is a research team focused on research to drive and evaluate evidence-based policymaking. Studies from the previous year showed similar conclusions.

UNC Charlotte Joins Swipe Out Hunger

In order to address food insecurity, UNC Charlotte has joined the fight to “Swipe Out Hunger.” This initiative was developed and founded by UCLA student Rachel Sumekh to distribute extra meal swipes to students in need. The program has enlisted colleges and universities across 23 states.

UNC Charlotte began developing a swipe donation program in July 2018, led by the co-founder of the Jamil Niner Student Pantry, Sean Langley, and the UNC Charlotte Sustainability Coordinator, Tyler Sytsma, in association with Chartwells Dining Service and Student Assistance and Support Services. The team faced many challenges in implementing these services campus-wide.

In an interview with Inside UNC Charlotte, Langley said, “The most challenging part was figuring out logistics. How do we determine eligibility? How will we collect donated meal swipes? How many swipes will each student receive? How do we convince University stakeholders that this is a worthwhile program since we are the first school in the UNC system to implement Swipe Out Hunger?”

Student involvement is the major key in developing this initiative into a fully functioning program. The University has set up stations for swipe donations at Crown Commons and Sovi dining halls. UNC Charlotte is the only university in North Carolina involved in the program, however, it serves as an example for all college and universities to get involved and fight student hunger.

Jamil Student Food Pantry

A supportive community provides a vital base for any new initiative. The Jamil Niner Student Pantry, located on John Kirk Drive, is an establishment that provides nutritious meals to UNC Charlotte undergraduate and graduate students that struggle with food insecurity. Efforts began in 2012 when the UNC Charlotte team at the NC Campuses Against Hunger Conference recommended opening campus food pantries across the state. UNC Charlotte faculty partnered with Food Lion to start the pantry in August 2014. The project was opened to the public in October of 2014. Until recently, the pantry used locally grown produce from the backyard of their facilities to directly service students of UNC Charlotte. Now they have moved into a 2,600 square foot home where they served 260 students in the past month.

The organization is eager to get people involved for Hunger Awareness week. Sean Langley, co-founder says, “…we pass out flyers that educate students. The flyer has a link to Swipe Out Hunger here at UNC Charlotte (swipehunger.org/uncc). Generally once they hear the pitch, they are eager to participate.”

Langley emphasized how an involved community promotes a healthier community. He says programs like the Pantry and Swipe Out Hunger “bring students together because it’s 49ers helping 49ers. Nothing shows more school spirit than assisting a peer in need.”

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