An app originally created by a New York University student is being touted by advocates as a hopeful solution to Columbia's perennial issue of food insecurity. But the app’s release, initially scheduled for early March, has been postponed due to administrative review, casting doubt on its immediate future.
Undergraduate councils, student groups, and administrators have been working to combat food insecurity on campus for years. So far, these efforts have been unable to adequately help all food-insecure students, and the councils have attempted to bolster existing resources repeatedly over the past two years.
Now, Share Meals, created by NYU graduate student Jon Chin, is the latest solution being sponsored by Columbia First-Generation Low-Income Partnership, Columbia Engineering Student Council, Student Government Association of Barnard College, General Studies Student Council, and Columbia College Student Council.
But the app’s release has been postponed due to an administrative review process because the app intends to collect student data, according to Dean of Undergraduate Student Life Cristen Kromm. There is not a set timeline for this review.
Share Meals will indicate where students can find free food on campus. When a student has an extra swipe, they can put a pin on the map, and any student who needs a swipe can click on that pin and message the student offering the swipe. Students can also announce when there is free food available in dorms and other campus locations for students.
In 2015, CCSC and FLIP sponsored a similar app, Swipes, which allowed students to share meal swipes at John Jay Dining Hall, Ferris Booth Commons, and JJ’s Place. But Swipes failed to achieve the necessary traction to effectively connect students, and the app shut down last fall. However, council members are confident that Share Meals will be more successful than Swipes.
“We all piloted the app [Share Meals], and it was really professionally done. It looked like Lyft’s interface,” Sidney Perkins, SEAS ’17 and vice president of policy for ESC said.
CCSC Vice President for Policy Abby Porter, CC ’17, also blames Swipes’ interface for its failure, especially since there was significant student interest in the mobile app.
“There were issues with the development of the app itself. But the truth is that the number of people that downloaded it so quickly is somewhere in the three digits, so there was a definite desire to have the app,” Porter said.
Council members are hopeful that surveys and recording student use of Share Meals will bolster support for a broader initiative to combat food insecurity on campus.
“We really want to get data through the app and see how many people use these resources on campus,” Silin Huang, GS ’18 and vice president of policy for GSSC said. “For GSSC, we might end up with more students using it because we don’t receive as much financial aid as CC and SEAS students.”
Though the councils and FLIP—which submitted its proposal for Share Meals last week—are still awaiting to hear the results from the administrative review, they are working closely with Kromm to ensure a successful implementation.
“I’m optimistic that we will be releasing really soon, and I want everyone to have access to it as soon as it is released,” FLIP President Lizette Delgadillo, SEAS ’17, said.