College students often have funds remaining on their meal plans, yet at the same time others, even within the same community, are hungry. But conventionally University systems aren't agile enough to distribute food to those in need. I created a system solve this problem, and an organization to help feed the world.


Research & Strategy | Identity Development | Organizational Strategy | Campaign Development | Marketing Collateral

I was running a focus group with college students seeking feedback on injustices they felt locally. There emerged a consensus around food inequality on their campus. These students each received a charge card with a credit applied they "swiped" through the card reader each time they purchased food at a dining court. When the pay period ended any remaining balance went to the University. So students found themselves often buying easily-available shelf-stable items (like Twinkies) to avoid these losses. Yet at the same time, even in the same community, there were hundreds of families without enough food. 

It didn't take long to determine rebalancing this allotment could ameliorate some local hunger, but there was no device to make this transition equitable, and the University wasn't agile enough to adopt a simple charity campaign. I created the concept of a card that represented a food item already stocked on the shelves of the food courts, but costing just pennies. What if students could purchase this card instead of the food it represents, and the funds could be redistributed to local food pantries upon reconciling inventory.

We created a brand around this transaction called "Swipe Out Starvation" since every time a student swiped their meal card they would have the option of making a donation to local hunger relief. It was important to me to make sure the students participating in this program understood the problem of hunger as accurately as possible; after all, education is the only way to truly solve the systemic problem from the ground up. So I created 6 cards, each with an image that represented one of the core "faces" of food insecurity. It was essential the cards depicted individuals in an edifying way, focusing on their humanity rather than depravity. On the back of each card was a short fact to underscore the vast scope of the problem of hunger. And it was important that the cards felt collectible, that students would choose to keep them in their wallet or stick them on their mirror, and the awareness of hunger as a local concern would grow. I also custom-designed the point-of-purchase display to house the cards to look hand-made from old wood to stand out from the pre-packaged goods already on the counter, and associate with the poverty related to food insecurity. The Swipe Out brand and concept was featured in HOW International Design Magazine, in their Designing Change column in 2011.

The program was built, but it was difficult to convince the University to allow to launch the program in their food courts. It took over a years worth of phone calls, meetings, and pitches until we finally got the right people in the room. The meeting started rough like all the rest, but about halfway through I made it clear my team and I were aware of the financial challenges of the University, and I suggested we ask for each card's value to be only the cost of goods of the associated item, minimizing their risk considerably. The tide in the room visibly shifted, and we had permission to do a single pilot week.

We built a street team network to canvas campus, and we even created a viral marketing campaign playing off the concept that the average American college student's understanding of real hunger is so far from reality of much of the world it's humorous. We staged a "hunger march" of students picketing against these facetious hunger issues ("There's not enough stuff in my double stuff!"). When students came close to see, we took the opportunity to share about the card program.

In the pilot week over 5,000 cards sold out in 4 days, and we had permission to do 6 more runs. Over the years the program has evolved and is now available every day in every food store on campus. To date over 25,000 cards have been purchased, and the funds have provided for many local food needs including providing for hundreds of backpacks for children on free or reduced lunch programs to make it through the weekend. We are working on expanding the program into retail establishments, and broadening to other Universities.