Jaz White, a 21-year-old junior at the University of Pittsburgh, gets creative when it comes to finding free meals.
At least once a week, her lunch comes from PITT ARTS' "Artful Wednesday," which lures students to the William Pitt Union with food to accompany a dance or music performance. Lectures in the creative-writing program (White is an information-sciences major) offering free pizza or snacks cover other meals.
As often as twice a week, dinner has come courtesy of Pitt's Free Arts Encounters program, which along with a show provides a free meal at restaurants such as The Porch at Schenley, in Oakland, and Six Penn Kitchen, Downtown.
"They're the best meals we get," White says of her and her roommate, Mary Pappalardo, the faces behind the @FreeOaklandFood Twitter account.
The account, launched in September, has gained more than 700 followers. White and Pappalardo use it to send out alerts aimed at students, guiding them to any opportunity for free or very low-cost food and drink.
"‘Best Job Search Practices for iSchool Undergrads & Masters Students' in 401 IS Building @1. Lunch will be provided. #freelunch #freeadvice," read one tweet in mid-October.
"Career Services is holding a Future Links info session w/ #freepizza in 548 WPU at 12pm," read another in late November.
White and Pappalardo created the account after Pappalardo jokingly called her roommate the "on-campus free-lunch lady," when White called to tell her of another free meal she had found.
"We were like, ‘That should be a thing,'" says Pappalardo, who graduated in December with a degree in English literature and writing.
Although they started on a whim, both women say the Twitter account and the community they've built around it are now being used to help bolster their résumés in social media and marketing. They intend to keep it going through the spring semester.
The free meals, they say, are part necessity for cash-strapped or busy college students and part novelty.
"A lot of the meals are attached to lecture series, and I don't think students necessarily know about it — but they are really interesting," Pappalardo explains. "I think it's cool if we can boost that attendance a little bit, even if it is just for the food."