Rather than stocking up on junk food or eating several meals per day, Otterbein students helped ensure their classmates had enough to eat this holiday season.

Rather than stocking up on junk food or eating several meals per day, Otterbein students helped ensure their classmates had enough to eat this holiday season.

Most years, any extra meal swipes left on student meal plan accounts at the end of a semester either go to waste or are burned through for the sake of using them.

But this year, Associate Dean of Experiential Learning Melissa Gilbert helped organize a program that allows students to donate their swipes to those who have run out or never had any to begin with.

"Students have always been able to swipe other people in at the end of the semester, but really starting just this year we've taken more seriously the number of students on our campus who are under-resourced and potentially dealing with food insecurity on a daily basis," Gilbert said.

The idea came from a student Gilbert can't even identify.

She had been pondering the concept of distributing swipes among students in need, but didn't know how to implement it. One day, she walked into the cafeteria and saw "a guy in a gray jacket" who she said was "just having people swipe in" when they needed lunch.

The student helped her realize how easy the program could be.

"I thought, 'Students are doing this on their own. They've figured this out on their own,' " she said. "But we need to help make some connections here. It was just realizing that students had come up with this and we needed to get this done. Of course students wanted to do it, but many just didn't know how."

Freshman nursing major Haylie Schmoll was one of those students. Three weeks into the semester, she got her first reminder that not all students know where their next meal will come from.

"This guy came up to me and said, 'Hey, ... do you have a swipe you could give me?' " she said. "I was like, 'Yeah, sure. You don't have any meal swipes?' He said, 'Yeah, I do, but I'm worried mine are going to run out.' I was like, 'You know it's week three, right?' "

At that point, Schmoll said she realized she was one of the lucky ones.

"I've always heard about the 'freshman 15,' " she said. "How can I care about the freshman 15 when there are people worried about even having a meal, let alone gaining 15 pounds?"

Gilbert said about 32 percent of students are eligible for the federal Pell Grant, which is awarded to students in need of financial assistance. Using that number alone speaks to how many hungry students could be on campus.

"If you are Pell-eligible, it means that typically you're under-resourced and trying to be able to afford college a little differently than some of our students alongside you," she said. "Given what we know now about the student population, we've really been concerned with any student on campus having any needs for food."

During finals week, Dec. 8-11, more than 50 students a day donated swipes, a response greater than Gilbert and Schmoll expected. Gilbert said she expects the program to gain steam in the future.

The meal-swipe idea comes as a precursor to a project called the Promise House, which will provide food and other resources for students in need.

The projects are meant to raise awareness of hunger on college campuses. Whether it's an on-campus resident who doesn't have enough meal swipes or a commuter who can't afford lunch between finals, Otterbein students are looking to protect their fellow Cardinals.

"It's kind of a big burden," Schmoll said. "When you're in college, you don't think about getting a meal. It's not your top priority."