MINNEAPOLIS—As a freshman at the University of Minnesota, David Begelman watched students on his dorm floor overeat at breakfast and then skip lunch to stretch their weekly 14-meal dining plans.
"Some students were binge-eating in the morning, then not eating anything until the very end" of the day, he said. "It just wasn't right."
Two years later, the neuroscience major has found a way to help students at the university who struggle to pay for food.
The University of Minnesota is one of 30 U.S. schools participating in a meal-share program called Swipe Out Hunger, whose name refers to the ID cards students swipe to pay for their meals.
During an inaugural two-week drive last month, 541 students at the university donated a total of 2,570 guest-pass meals from their own dining plans.
"It was a huge number, a lot more than I anticipated," said Begelman, who leads the local chapter.
The university's Boynton Health Services now is distributing hundreds of five-meal cards to hungry students through its mental health clinics.
"We know some of these students are struggling in lots of ways," Boynton public health director Dave Golden said.
Begelman said there will be more meal-donation drives near the start of each semester.
The U requires students living in the dorms to buy a meal plan, and the 14-meal weekly plan is the most popular. It costs about $8 a meal and includes 10 guest passes, any or all of which can be donated through Swipe Out Hunger.
Amy Keran, the University of Minnesota's director of contract administration, said they're testing the program in its first year. It's possible the students' donations will not be limited to just guest passes in the future, but Keran said they didn't want to encourage students to sacrifice their own meals for others.
In a 2015 survey, 10 percent of U students said they had run out of money for food sometime in the past year.
"It was higher than at least what I expected," Golden said.
Golden said the U also offers a food pantry three times a month at Coffman Memorial Union.
"The idea is to reduce the stress that's associated" with buying food, he said.
Golden said it's hard to be a student when you're worried about finding your next meal.