CofC's Miss Judy is the face of the Swipe Away Student Hunger Campaign 

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click to enlarge Judy Riser has been working in CofC's cafeteria since 1974

Courtesy of College of Charleston

Judy Riser has been working in CofC's cafeteria since 1974

You know Miss Judy. Even if you didn't graduate from the College of Charleston, you know Miss Judy. The "born and raised" Charlestonian, avid Cougars basketball fan, with photos tucked carefully away in albums featuring her petite figure alongside John Kresse and Earl Grant, has worked in the CofC dining halls for more than four decades, "working the line" in a hair net — "when I had black hair"— stocking pepper shakers because she "never sneezed," swiping in students every day from 6:45 a.m. to 2:45 p.m. Miss Judy: a woman with a sharp tongue, a big heart, and a genuine altruistic attitude. "I think it's [the Swipe Away Hunger Campaign] the most wonderful thing that's ever happened. I'm so glad they let me help with that. It's gonna help a lot of kids."

The College's Student Alumni Associates launched the Swipe Away Student Hunger Campaign in the fall of 2016 as a reaction to the discovery of food insecurity on campus. In CP's "Homeless and Hungry at America's Most Beautiful College," CP writer Dustin Waters found that "3,375 students at the college are food insecure," according to the College's 2017 Nutrition and Housing Study Student Survey. "On any given day that means 30 percent of the student population has difficulty finding an adequate meal. This includes more than 8 percent of the student body that report going an entire day without eating due to a lack of money."

Executive Vice President of Student Affairs Alicia Caudill says that while the initiative started in 2016, the campaign really took off this fall. "We hold all of the funds in an account and we work as requests come in," says Caudill. The funds are gleaned from an online donation landing page and from the students themselves, who are able to donate their extra meal swipes to others who do not have enough, or may not have any. As a veteran — and beloved — dining hall cashier, Miss Judy sees this firsthand.

"They never come in and say 'I'm hungry," she says. "They come in with their friends and their friends will go through the line and they'll get to me and say 'oh I can't do it today.'" Miss Judy says she keeps her own stash of money to pay for the kids who have no other option. She sits behind a register, a walker nearby. Miss Judy broke her hip in January, a result, she thinks, of a childhood case of polio. She casually pats her pocket, where the extra money lives. "Next year I'd like to buy a meal plan for myself, that I could share with the kids."

Caudill says that when it comes to helping under-served students, Student Affairs works with the College's Financial Aid office to determine not just what the forms say, but what the specifics of the situation are. "Let's say there are some unpredictable situations that happened that changed their ability to access funds for food," says Caudill. For instance, "during the hurricane, hourly student jobs don't get paid, they're gone for several days, that can really impact funds for food. Or maybe the family supporter loses a job, they don't have the same amount of support."

Caudill says since its inception, the Swipe Away Hunger Campaign has helped more and more students, as an increasing number of College staff and student leaders become aware of the donating swipes option, and share this information with the students they work closely with. There's still a stigma, of course. But the more people — Resident Advisors, teaching assistants, club presidents — students facing food insecurity can approach, the more likely they'll take advantage of the campaign.

CofC student Adheza Eison, the treasurer of the campaign, says she always knew it was a great cause, but "didn't realize it would get so big." Eison makes sure that all Student Alumni Associate members sign up for shifts to work at the dining halls during the major push of the campaign. The push for students to donate swipes is held near the end of the semester, so that those with swipes can make sure they have enough to eat; swipes and dining dollars that are donated at the end of 2017 will be used for students in need during the 2018 Spring semester.

Eison knows firsthand how pricey a meal plan can be. "The lowest amount is $500 and that's 40 meal swipes a semester." If a student starts school when classes begin for the spring semester, Mon. Jan. 8, 2018, and they use their plan to purchase two meals a day only on weekdays, the plan will last until about early February. "When you stretch it out, it can last near the end," says Eison. "Speaking personally, $500 is a lot for 40 swipes, I don't rely on my parents so I'm paying out of pocket. I just don't have the budget."

In an ideal world, the smiling and sharp witted Miss Judy would be behind the register whenever a hungry student wandered in. "I buy a lot of breakfasts, they love breakfast," she says. Miss Judy's phone lock screen is a huge, beautiful white cat, named after a local. She has three — "ain't that enough?" — that she lives with on East Bay Street. She never had any children of her own but, she says, "I have a lot of children."

When we visit, the 76-year old Miss Judy is excited about the upcoming "Breakfast for Dinner" '90s themed dining hall event held during finals. The halls opens up from 10:30 p.m. to 12:30 a.m. for students — the first 100 students sans meal plans get in for free — to take a break from book-binging in the libraries. Miss Judy says she's worked it almost every year, "the kids love it."

"It's my home," Miss Judy continues. "You know, I remember Grant [Earl] when he came here to do the [basketball] camps with John [Kresse]. He walked in he said 'I didn't know you were still here.' I said 'Well, where else would I be?'"


EDITOR'S NOTE: As of Sun. Dec 3, more than $7,000 was raised online for the campaign and on campus, 1, 381 students donated 6, 954 meal swipes — equal to more than $50,000 in value — and $485.02 in dining dollars. 


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