Coogs Help Coogs Battle Food Insecurity With Donated Meal Passes

In an effort to support University of Houston students who may be experiencing food insecurity, UH Auxiliary Services gave 24/7 Meal Plan holders the opportunity to donate some of their unused guest day passes to students in need.

“We were thinking of ways we could support food insecurity on campus,” said Rosie Ashley, Auxiliary Services program director. “The idea of allowing students to donate some of their passes came about in partnership with UH’s Student Government Association.” 

Auxiliary Services leaders met with representatives from UH’s Urban Experience Program and SGA and developed the plan to allow students to donate some of their guest day passes through a quick and easy online process. 

In all, more than 130 students donated a total of 236 guest day passes, which can be used at the two campus dining commons: Moody and Cougar Woods.

One of the students who decided to participate was Huy Nguyen, a freshman music education major.

“I don’t use my guest passes often, so I thought it was important to donate mine because it would help someone else at no expense to me,” he said. 

Food insecurity is characterized by the USDA as a state in which food intake and normal eating patterns are disrupted at times during the year because of a lack of money and other resources.

There is actually more food insecurity on campus than people may realize, Ashley said, but much depends on how food insecurity is viewed. For some students, it can simply mean whether they are eating nutritious meals. 

“It’s known that if students don’t have suitable nutrition, it can decrease their academic or physical performance,” Ashley said. “So instead of letting unused meal passes go to waste, we thought it’d be a good idea to let students donate them and have the opportunity to help others.”

Preventing students from lowering their nutritional intake and resorting to low-cost, unhealthy options is one of the program’s goal, which is expected to continue every semester.

“We decided to open the donation period up to one week at the beginning of the spring semester to give students time to settle in,” Ashley said. “And within that one week, donations just started coming and coming. It was great.”

Three of the meal plans offered at UH provide unlimited access to the two campus dining commons seven days a week. Those plans offer a number of guest day passes, which gives a family member or friend of the meal plan holder access to the dining commons over a 24-hour period.

For the donated guest pass program, the passes are used to provide a student one meal at either of the dining commons.

Students with a 24/7 Platinum Meal Plan were able to donate up to five of their allotted 30 guest day passes. Those with a Gold plan could give up to three of their 10 passes, while Silver plan holders were allowed to donate one of their five passes.

The donated passes were given to the Urban Experience Program, which distributes them to students experiencing food insecurity through its Student Assistance Network.

“Students benefit greatly from receiving the donated meal passes from Auxiliary Services. It’s exciting to see students helping students,” said Raven Jones, Urban Experience Program director. “This extra support from students has really shown how Cougars help Cougars. These donations have created a promising start at addressing the food insecurities that our students sometimes face.” 

While this semester marks the first time students have been allowed to donate some of their passes, Auxiliary Services has been donating 200 meal passes every fall and spring semester through a partnership with Chartwells Higher Education, the contracted food service provider for UH and the other universities within the University of Houston System.

Ashley and Jones look forward to seeing the guest pass donation program continue to grow.

“These donations will give the opportunity to some students to have healthier meal options when at UH,” Ashley said. “It was a very successful first semester for the program. I think we will be able to continue it each fall and spring semester, and we’re very excited for what’s to come.”