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University of Maryland pilots free meal swipes for students in need

The University of Maryland has launched a one-year pilot to test the viability of a program that will provide free meal swipes for students in need.

As reported by The Diamondback, the Emergency Meal Fund will provide more than 1,600 meals at campus dining halls for students deemed food insecure. Food insecure includes those students who have missed meals for one day or more, or are in unstable housing conditions.

The pilot program will help address a growing food insecurity issue at the university, after a study released in March found that some 20% of students at Maryland meet the food insecurity guidelines. This academic year there will be 166 meal cards made available, each loaded with 10 meal swipes to be used at on-campus dining facilities.

The meal cards are being subsidized with $5,000 of unspent SGA funds from last year. That money was then transferred to Maryland’s Dining Services, who was charged with determining the cost of running the program. Maryland Dining Services ultimately made the determination as to the lowest value of compensation needed for dining halls to offer the service.

Any student meeting food insecure guidelines is eligible to receive one of the meal cards either in the event of an emergency, or until their situation stabilizes. Though the meal cards are not limited to one per person, they are not meant to be a permanent solution.

For students needing to leverage the program, any staff or faculty member can identify “red flags” that could signal a student is food insecure. Students not identified by university staff can apply directly with any of the four card issuing bodies: the Campus Pantry, the Student Affairs Crisis Fund, Dining Services director’s office and Fostering Terp Success — an organization devoted to helping foster children transition to college.

Each office will maintain its own set of guidelines for assessing student needs. Provided enough of the meal cards are distributed, the university plans to devote additional funds to ensure the program is sustainable on a longer term basis.

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