Three columbia dining meal vouchers on a carpet background

meal vouchers from the still-active Emergency Meal Fund

Have you heard of Columbia’s the Share Meals app? Bwogger Ross Chapman covers this latest attempt to combat food insecurity on campus, and reminds us of the last time Columbia attempted something similar. 

The launch of Share Meals, an app meant to aid food insecurity, has once again highlighted the difficulty of the Columbia community to provide for its students in need.

For the last three years, student councils and other organizations have busied themselves with finding solutions to Columbia’s increasingly visible food insecurity issue. Juniors and Seniors may remember Swipes, an app which was meant to connect students with meal swipes to students in need of entry to dining halls. Within a year, Swipes had shut down, but its ability to help food insecure students went down dramatically after the first few weeks. In a press release from November 2015, student groups claimed that Swipes was not performing as well as it could because not enough students were downloading and using the app, in part due to problems in promotion. Putting aside logistical issues, Swipes depended on a continued, active, face-to-face donation system which could be stressful or embarrassing for students in need of assistance.

Student councils and the First Generation Low-Income Partnership (FLIP) announced last month the launch of Share Meals, an NYU-sourced app that attempts to reduce food insecurity on campus by connecting students with meal swipes to students in need of entry to dining halls. The recently revealed service seems unaware of the problems which plagued Swipes. While its food map and diet-tagging features are helpful, it has been similarly plagued by a lack of activity. In four weeks of checking on the app, I have seen less than five opportunities for students to either get a swipe to a dining hall or to attend an event with free food. Share Meals has been advertised even less than Swipes, and has only 100 downloads on the Google Play Store – most of which come from non-Columbia students.

Resources for food insecurity continue to be split between apps like Share Meals and Swipes, university services like the Emergency Meal Fund, Facebook groups like CU Meal Share, and food distribution alternatives like the Food Bank at Columbia. This divide makes it harder for any of these individual services to succeed, and the constantly changing landscape of food insecurity initiatives creates additional confusion for students looking for food assistance.

The continued disuse of Share Meals shows that it may not provide any service to the Columbia community that CU Meal Share did not. If neither Share Meals nor Swipes proved themselves sustainable, it could be time for student councils and the University to abandon more innovative, technological designs and adopt more proven and universal methods like a food bank. Food banks can accept many types of donations which are not time-sensitive, and they provide more agency and discretion to students who use them. Share Meals is another well-meaning attempt to solve food insecurity – but it may soon go the way of Swipes and become a thing of the past.

EMF Voucher image via CU Meal Share