Swipes for the Homeless

Thach “Tak” Nguyen from San Francisco, CA

The Project

In September 2009, Swipes for the Homeless was established as an official university student organization at UCLA in order to help alleviate the destitution of the neighboring homeless community, specifically the growing student homelessness population. Having seen on-campus students collect hot meals for the needy in past years, Bryan Pezeshki and I set up a partnership between the multiple campus departments to fully institutionalize the program that would allow the impact and influence of this idea to grow to its full potential.

Although we faced resistance from administrators, and sometimes even law enforcement, who were apprehensive about students cutting in to university resources, we did not let it deter our efforts. On-campus residents with meal plans that allow them to roll over unused meals from week to week, tend to accrue many unused meals, or “swipes,” by the end of each academic quarter. By persisting and thinking creatively, we were able to establish the program and now at the end of the quarter, these students can donate their unused meal swipes, which would otherwise go to waste, to Swipes for the Homeless. Our organization then takes the meals to homeless shelters, homeless living on the streets, and homeless and hungry students on campus. We also target wasted food in the residential dining halls and community businesses in order to salvage that food for those less fortunate. The organization has collected over 35,000 meals to date.

The Progress

In 2011, Bryan and I founded the Swipes for the Homeless nonprofit organization, a certified 501(c)3 when they saw that the success of the program can be replicated at colleges throughout the nation. Today, Swipes for the Homeless chapters have been established at universities such as the University of Southern California, UC Irvine, Texas State University-San Marcos, and even internationally at the University of Paris, France. In March 2012, after a nationwide search and vetting of thousands of applicants, President Obama recognized our organization as one of five “Champions of Change,” personally inviting our group to the White House to honor us for our impact on the community.

Swipes still believes in the potential of the program and is currently working at expanding chapters to a dozen other university and college campuses, keeping alive the dream of eradicating hunger and homelessness. Our mission is not only to provide meals for the homeless population but to also educate and increase awareness to on-campus students about how they can directly impact and make a tangible difference in their communities.

The Team

The Swipes for the Homeless board of directors comprises of six recent college graduates, each of whom have full-time jobs but devote hours of tireless work, pro bono, to further the mission of the Swipes nonprofit. I am the Executive Director, and am also working full-time in executive recruitment at JCPenny in San Francisco. Rustom Birdie, UCLA 2012, is our Director of Finance, and is working at L.E.K. Consulting in Boston. Rachel Sumekh, UCLA 2012, is our Director of Chapter Development, and is working at Inspiration Corporation, a Chicago based provider of homeless programs. Jose Iniguez, UCLA 2009, is our Director of Media, and is working at MTV Studios in New York City. Cali Tran, UCLA 2010, is our Director of Operations, and a second year law student at UC Berkeley School of Law. Last but not least, Natalie Gonzalez, UCLA 2009, is our Director for Chapter Relations.

In spite, or perhaps because of our different experiences and interests, the board of directors complement each other to form a dynamic team environment, all working towards the collective aim of empowering college students to engage in community service. Our team comes from diverse backgrounds and, equally as important, are all headed in different directions in our careers. But we're bound by our passion for service and seek to use our unique skills and interests for a common cause.

The Fearless Changemaker

The Swipes for the Homeless board of directors comprises of six recent college graduates, each of whom have full-time jobs but devote hours of tireless work, pro bono, to further the mission of the Swipes nonprofit. I am the Executive Director, and am also working full-time in executive recruitment at JCPenny in San Francisco. Rustom Birdie, UCLA 2012, is our Director of Finance, and is working at L.E.K. Consulting in Boston. Rachel Sumekh, UCLA 2012, is our Director of Chapter Development, and is working at Inspiration Corporation, a Chicago-based provider of homeless programs. Jose Iniguez, UCLA 2009, is our Director of Media, and is working at MTV Studios in New York City. Cali Tran, UCLA 2010, is our Director of Operations, and a second year law student at UC Berkeley School of Law. Last but not least, Natalie Gonzalez, UCLA 2009, is our Director for Chapter Relations. In spite, or perhaps because of our different experiences and interests, the board of directors complement each other to form a dynamic team environment, all working towards the collective aim of empowering college students to engage in community service. Our team comes from diverse backgrounds and, equally as important, are all headed in different directions in our careers. But we're bound by our passion for service and seek to use our unique skills and interests for a common cause.

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