Some George Mason students are homeless, others launch meals program to help

Homelessness in Fairfax County is a small but persistent problem that Fairfax has dedicated great resources to eliminating. But in one of America’s wealthiest counties, you would not expect to find homeless college students on the campus of George Mason University, Virginia’s largest university.

Tara el Mowafy, the George Mason University senior who, along with senior Jordan Bivings, helped create the Student Meal Assistance Fund for Mason students who are homeless or unable to afford to eat. (George Mason University) Yara el Mowafy, the George Mason University senior who, along with senior Jordan Bivings, helped create the Student Meal Assistance Fund for Mason students who are homeless or unable to afford to eat. (George Mason University)

But that’s what two GMU students discovered while trying to find a way to redirect unused meal money on student meal cards to those in need. According to stories by Jennifer van der Kleut in the Fairfax City Patch and Kate Yanchulis in the Fairfax County Times (story not online), seniors Yara El Mowafy and Jordan Bivings knew that many students didn’t use all the meals they’d paid for, and were trying to work with campus food provider Sodexo to somehow help out other students. In doing so, the two students found that there were perhaps a dozen homeless students on the Fairfax campus who sometimes sought help from the FACETS group in Fairfax, which helps poor families and individuals.

Some university officials were aware of the problem, El Mowafy and Bivings learned, which sometimes stemmed from some students using all their money for tuition and other school costs, and not having enough for housing or food. Maggie Olszewska, the director of student support at Mason, told Yanchulis that she had met with four or five students this semester who identified themselves as homeless.

The idea of redirecting unused meal money fell through when the system of meal cards was changed to a flat fee, not based on number of meals used. Instead, El Mowafy, head of GMU’s Oxfam American, and Bivings, head of Mason Meals, created the “Student Meal Assistance Fund” to raise money for students who don’t have enough to eat. Students in need will get vouchers from the Office of Student Support and Case Management. Sodexo even kicked in the first $1,000, and El Mowafy raised another $500.

If you want to help, you can go the GMU Foundation’s website. A fact sheet created by El Mowafy is here. Van der Kleut’s full story is here.

Tom Jackman is a native of Northern Virginia and has been covering the region for The Post since 1998.

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Tom Jackman · November 29, 2013