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On the Spot with Alana Davidson

Graduating in May with a Bachelor of Science in nutrition, Alana Davidson is leaving her mark on UNH by paying it forward. After conducting research on campus last fall, Davidson found that out of a sample size of 943 UNH graduate and undergraduate students, 25 percent proved to be “food insecure.” It was this shocking find that inspired Davidson to create the program “Swipe It Forward.”

“Swipe It Forward” has been implemented to allow students, faculty, staff and community members to donate food swipes to both undergraduate and graduate students who identify as “food insecure” through a virtual food bank.  Students can donate up to 15 swipes per semester to the food bank. Meal swipes are then loaded onto the student ID cards of those in need and can be used at any of the three dining halls on campus.

Originally from Hamden, Connecticut, Davidson has always had an appreciation for good food and good nutrition. She remembers countless days spent cooking and baking in the kitchen with her father.

“I was going to be a baker before I settled on nutrition,” Davidson said. However, she knew that, with her passion for helping others, there had to be something she could do to help. After spending a summer interning at the Connecticut Mental Health Center at Yale University, Davidson became frustrated. Her project was to assist in finding a way to provide healthier food for clients on public assistance.

“[The country] produces enough food, but not everyone has access to it,” Davidson said.

Davidson took this frustration back to UNH during the fall of her sophomore year. Using data from the College Health and Nutritional Assessment Survey out of the Nutrition Program, Davidson found that 12 percent of students in a Nutrition 400 course, comprised mostly of freshman, were “food insecure.”

This statistic stunned Davidson and peaked her concern. She explained her desire to conduct more research on a larger scale to President Huddleston last year at an event for scholarship recipients.

“There’s the whole romanticized image of eating ramen noodles [because] college students are ‘supposed’ to be struggling. But we’re talking about students here who are eating maybe one meal a day. They can’t afford fruits and vegetables. They’re going to class hungry. They’re getting migraines. They’re tired,” Davidson said.  

In her efforts to help, Davidson then developed a survey using the same validated questionnaire that the USPA uses at the household and childhood level to assess food insecurity. After adding demographic questions, the survey was e-mailed out and posted on boards, buses and social media all over campus. A sample size of 943 undergraduate and graduate students voluntarily took the survey and the results were staggering, indicating that 25 percent of the respondents were “food insecure.”

Davidson presented these findings to the Dean’s Council and considered what other universities such as UC Berkley and the University of Oregon were doing to address this problem. She came up with a plan that didn’t require any change in technology or any additional cost on Blackboard. It doesn’t affect the amount of financial aid students will receive or require an application.

“We decided not to [require an application] because it is just another barrier for students when it’s already difficult to come forward to begin with,” Davidson said. Anyone, from an academic advisor, a counselor, or a professor, can suggest that a student use this program, or they can come forward themselves. The Parents Association has helped to start the program with a grant of $4,000.

Davidson recently applied to graduate school at Tufts University and NYU for Food Policy with a focus in food insecurity. After that, she hopes to move to Washington, D.C. in order to “ensure our food system works so that all Americans have access to healthy, nutritious food, regardless of zip code, race, socio-economic status, etc.” 

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