by Kim Szarmach
Julianna Uranga, President of Swipe Out Hunger AU, first witnessed food insecurity when she would visit her family in Mexico.
“When they would cook for us they would go all out,” she said. It’s just who they are and the culture is so inviting, but we would notice they had these small pieces of chicken that were only for the guests of honor.”
Her cousins, who were paid in Mexican pesos had to buy food in U.S. dollars, valued at 10 times the price of the peso, so they couldn’t afford much, according to Uranga.
“Seeing that disparity throughout my life and having that perspective as a child has really geared me towards acknowledging that hunger is a prevalent issue not only within the United States but through out the entire world,” she said.
Now Uranga is leading a student run organization aimed at eradicating hunger on AU’s campus and in the D.C. community. Swipe Out Hunger AU’s longterm goal is to give food insecure students a way to request free meal swipes from AU when they run out and can’t afford other food.
She noticed the need for such a program when she joined a sports team at AU. According to Uranga, many student athletes at the university don’t have access to proper nutrition they need to function at school.
“A lot of the upperclassmen—especially with the athletes—they burn more calories so they are hungrier,” she said. “They would ask a lot of the lowerclassmen for meal swipes but it came to that point in the semester where its just like ‘I can’t provide you with meal swipes anymore’ so I realized they were kind of left on their own.”
As a first generation student student of color, Uranga said she has friends from similar backgrounds who struggle to afford food, just like the student athletes.
Unfortunately, Uranga said it will take some time before these students have more options when they run out of swipes.
“We are focused on meal swipes, however, just because we’re working with the university and larger institutions such as Aramark it takes more time and negotiation,” she said.
In the meantime, Swipe Out Hunger AU is coordinating with the new food pantry on campus called The Market. The Market is a resource for AU students experiencing food insecurity, which is a growing population according to the university’s website.
Swipe Out Hunger AU helps fundraise for The Market because it is a great way for students to get the nourishment they need to do well in school, Uranga said.
“If you’re struggling with just covering food and you don’t know when your next meal is going to come or you have to ration your meal swipes, it creates a disparity [because] you can not afford to allocate all your time to studying, you also have to be mentally preparing yourself like ‘tonight I might not be able to eat or its just going to be ramen,’” Uranga said.
Not only does Swipe Out Hunger AU fight for the alleviation of food insecurity on campus, the advocacy group also supports a local organization called We Are Family Senior Outreach Network. The network hand delivers groceries to elderly members of the Columbia Heights Neighborhood who would not have access to healthy food otherwise.
Swipe Out Hunger AU acknowledges that food insecurity exists all over D.C. and believes it’s important to work to reduce it off AU’s campus as well, according to Uranga.
“Partnering with We Are Family allows us to not only impact the AU community but other lives in the Columbia Heights neighborhood,” she said.
Swipe Out Hunger AU has a lot to do before it can achieve its goal of reducing hunger AU’s campus and in the greater D.C. community, according to Uranga. The work is not easy, but it is extremely important, she said.
“In order to be a good student and a good citizen, in order to participate you need to have the energy and the nutrients because your body needs them.”