Swipes for the Homeless receives $30,000 prize

USC Swipes for the Homeless, an annual event which donates students’ extra dining dollars to people in need, will return this year from Dec. 1-5. The national organization won $30,000 in prize money from a social innovation pitch competition.

“At the end of each semester, we get people to donate their unused dining accounts, which is their remaining balances once winter break starts,” said Lauren O’Neil, co-president of USC Swipes for the Homeless.

USC Swipes for the Homeless typically stations members outside Trojan Grounds, the bookstore, and other prominent campus locations to encourage students to donate leftover dining dollars at the end of the semester.

The money is then converted by USC Hospitality into canned food, which is then donated to the Los Angeles mission.

Unlike last year, this year USC Swipes for the Homeless will also be on Tapingo, a smartphone application that allows students to order food for takeout or delivery.

“Students can sign up to donate their unused balances on the Tapingo app,” O’Neil said.

This was the first time that Swipes for the Homeless participated in the Social Venture Partners’ national fast pitch competition, and the organization was awarded three out of the six awards, amounting to a total of $30,000. O’Neil said hundreds of charities applied.

The three awards that the organization was given were the Judges Grand Prize Award, The Annenberg Audience Award and the Media Prize.

“One of them was the Audience Award, where the audience [was] able to vote for their favorite pitch,” said Rachel Sumekh, national executive director of Swipes for the Homeless. “The Grand Prize was given to us by a panel of judges, which amounted to $15,000.”

The company Ad-Prose also gave USC Swipes for the Homeless a donation of $5,000.

Sumekh was the youngest person presenting at the event, and Swipes for the Homeless was the newest organization.

According to the organization’s website, USC Swipes for the Homeless was created in spring of 2012 to assist with the issue of homelessness in the L.A. area.

“The last two weeks of every semester, we collect donations for Swipes for the Homeless,” O’Neil said. “It has been our basic model to get unused dining dollars at the end of each semester when accounts are frozen and students can no longer access them.”

The organization applied to the competition in July. Twenty semifinalists were chosen based on their applications. The list was then narrowed down to 10 finalists through presentations of their fast pitches to a panel of judges.

“The 10 finalists also go through a two-month training program on how to make speeches and how to make proposals,” O’Neil said.

USC Swipes for the Homeless was one of the 10 finalists chosen to present their three-minute fast pitch at the event, which was held at the Skirball Cultural Center on Oct. 29.

“It’s a networking event that connects innovators, sponsors, different philanthropic initiatives,” O’Neil said.

O’Neil and Sumekh attended the event as representatives for USC Swipes for the Homeless.

“The national director is going to use the prize money to create a national e-board,” O’Neil said. The national e-board will support the local chapters of Swipes for the Homeless and implement other awareness programs.

Originally, Sumekh was working out of a Starbucks, so this money will allow her to have an office. Hopefully, this will help her “to create the organizational structure to make Swipes for the Homeless stronger in a national sense,” O’Neil said.

The organization also plans to use the money to fund possible volunteer trips and support other local chapters of Swipes for the Homeless.