Anthony Dongfack (CAS’20), Feeding Boston’s Homeless Through Meal Swipes
With just the swipe of a BU ID card, Anthony Dongfack (CAS’20) is empowering BU students to battle hunger and “bridge the gap between privileged individuals and the homeless population of Boston.” He was able to launch Swipes for Boston with a $3,000 grant from BU’s Community Service Center. Now, he’s got his eyes set on scaling the program and getting more BU Terriers involved.
How do you create innovation?
I create innovation by creating new ways to connect people. My form of innovation is the bonds I try to form between people or among groups of people.
Who or what inspires you to create impact?
I am inspired to create impact by my friends and family, all those close to me. When people reflect vocally on a significant impact I have had on them, not only does it make me feel good but it also makes me stop and think about how I can spread those same positive effects of my actions towards the people I have not yet interacted with.
Tell us, how Swipes for Boston get started?
It all started as a general community service project that the BU Community Service Center gave me a $3,000 grant for after successfully applying for their Santander Urban Impact Microgrant program that my Sargent peer mentor Dante Cilento recommended me for. I had procured the original idea from my best friend back home working on the same cause over at Temple University (Swipes for Philly), and being able to help him with it was one of the most rewarding experiences. He suggested that I do the same in Boston; so I did just that.
What problem are you hoping to solve with Swipes for Boston?
I am trying to, on a microscale, solve hunger and, on a macroscale, bridge the gap between privileged individuals (including myself) and the homeless population of Boston. We do so by gathering meals from the BU Rhetty-to-Go service. One Rhetty-to-Go meal is equivalent to one meal-plan swipe; therefore, students can convert unused meal swipes into tangible food and drink to be stored. Once enough is stored, a group of students goes out into Boston and distributes this food in person to the homeless as a way of giving back.
What has been the biggest challenge or obstacle you had to overcome in your role or for your new venture? How did you do it? What did you learn from the experience?
Gaining support from fellow students. It’s easy to start a movement; anyone can do that. The hard part is giving it momentum.
Who do you turn to for mentorship and advice?
I turn to my own friends. They often offer new perspectives on things about either my methods of doing things or the project itself that I would not have been able to think of on my own, thus helping me refine and better my efforts towards helping the project grow even more. My friends are close enough and real enough with me that they can check me and highlight areas of growth because, for just that reason, they want to see me grow and become my best self in realization of all things I wish to accomplish not only in these four years of college but also in life.
What is one major accomplishment you’re most proud of?
I would say that from the beginning just finding someone that believed in the potential of my project in the first place. I had faith that the entire project idea was a good one, but to find people that were willing to support, fund, and physically help out with the project was the real accomplishment in my eyes. When it became truly possible, that is when I became most grateful to all those supported me and felt most accomplished that an abstract idea was finally becoming concrete.
What advice would you give to someone starting their own innovation journey right now?
Do not get discouraged just because the process of starting seems either slow or too difficult to manage or both. It is possible, and there are people that will be willing to help you if you ask. I started mine by asking a mentor, and he redirected me to the Director of the Community Service Center. Ask anyone if you do not know where to start because eventually someone will know where to start and give you the directions to that starting line. From there, believe that you will make it to the finish line.
Two years from now, what do you hope to be doing? What keeps you motivated to get there?
I aspire for this project to become a student organization that is sustainably recognized by Boston University to be continued for years to come by students who enjoy making a positive impact on the homeless people of the city of Boston and showing love to fellow humans through sharing.
What’s next for Swipes for Boston?
We are currently working on gaining a larger team with the help of the new BU Student Government’s City Affairs committee. The entire marketing platform of the Swipes for Boston project will soon be completely revamped, with better promotion of the project message, branded apparel and paraphernalia for members, and a greater presence both on campus and in the community of Boston.
We are also working to gain an online donation system that makes the act of contributing from a distance much easier for the many students who support the mission but cannot necessarily give too much time to the physical community presence of the project. We understand the commitments that come with being a BU student and appreciate any and all help.
What’s something others might be surprised to learn about you?
My first language was French. I actually lost the language completely at four years old and grew up with a native English accent that is audible when I speak my newly learned French in the present-day. This piece of my identity is directly correlated to my family’s origin in Cameroon, Africa and the growing presence of French in my curriculum starting from high school in culminating to my abroad experience in Grenoble, France that eventually led me to switch from Human Physiology (premed) in SAR to French (premed) in CAS.