A new student organization at VCU is aiming to help feed homeless Richmonders near the Monroe Park campus. The organization, known as RightSwipes, wants to feed those in need by letting students swipe meals and distribute them.
The organization was founded by VCU freshman Ronald Shackleford, a 17-year-old from Delaware who moved to Richmond in August. Shackleford said he was motivated to start the organization after seeing the amount of homeless people in Richmond during his new student orientation.
“When I came out here, I would walk around the city and see two, three or four homeless people every street or block, it was kind of baffling,” Shackleford said. “I’ve always had this want to change the world for the better, so when I came back down for school I wanted to help people.”
Shackleford said he decided to form the organization after having a conversation with a homeless man in Monroe Park. Afterward, Shackleford swiped him a meal.
According to the U.S. Census Bureau, 26.3 percent of people in Richmond were living below the poverty level between 2007 and 2011. In 2012, Homeward, a coordinating and planning organization for homeless services, counted 1,040 homeless people in Richmond and in the counties of Chesterfield, Henrico and Hanover.
Iris Chan, a volunteer with RightSwipes, said that it was not only seeing those in poverty around campus that inspired the organization, but also the well-documented number of unused meal swipes at the end of each semester.
“Lots of freshmen have heard about how at the end of semester everyone always has a bunch of extra swipes,” Chan said. “We thought we might as well take advantage of that, we figured we could help out by using those extra swipes that are already paid for and feed someone in need.”
Last spring, The CT reported that unused meal swipes cost more than $1 million for students, because leftover meal swipes do not roll over into the next semester.
Tamara Highsmith, manager of VCU Dining Services, told The CT about 88,000 swipes are unused each semester. Freshmen living in university housing are required to purchase a meal plan, the most expensive option costs $2,020 for 300 blocks and 100 dining dollars, the cheapest being 200 blocks and 150 dining dollars for $1,664. Students not living on campus are able to purchase meal plans as well, but can find much smaller plans starting at $205.
While the members of RightSwipes are optimistic about their work, there is a possibility that VCU could shut down the organization.
In 2007, The CT reported that the Honors Society for Psychology students, Psi Chi, attempted to start a similar program called “Pledge of a Meal Swipe.” Psi Chi was told to stop by VCU Dining Services, which said the program violated the non-transferable meal contract.
VCU Dining Services did not return requests for a comment by press time.
Shackleford registered RightSwipes as an official VCU student organization, finding board members in suitemates from his dorm and having his resident assistant sponsor the group. Past failures won’t discourage their efforts, Shackleford said.
“A lot of people said it’s been tried before and failed, but for me there’s no giving up,” Shackleford said. “It’s trial and error, but we’re going to keep working on it.”
Students interested in donating meal swipes or any other food to RightSwipes can meet organizers in the Compass on Wednesdays between 10 a.m. and 5 p.m.