Two new initiatives have been introduced
By John Buday, Collegian Staff
September 11, 2019
For the fall 2019 semester, the University of Massachusetts debuted several food insecurity initiatives intended to improve student access to the dining program.
“UMass Dining is a very well- established program,” said Jonathan Blum, a junior economics major and the research policy and legislative policies coordinator for the Center for Education Policy and Advocacy.
“It’s been No. 1 in the Princeton Review for years… But we know that there are cracks in the system where people are not able to access those quality meals,” he said.
A 2015 Student Life survey found that about one in four UMass students skipped a meal either “sometimes” or “often” because they lacked funding. Since then, the price of meal plans has increased.
Created by CEPA, UMass Dining and Auxiliary Enterprises, these cheaper initiatives include: a supplemental unlimited meal plan, an emergency meals program and a meal plan donation fund.
UMass News & Media Relations deputy director Mary Dettloff said that UMass Dining relies heavily on feedback from the student body to inform its decisions. That includes tackling food insecurity, which the U.S. Department of Agriculture defines in part as reduced accessibility to food.
“Auxiliary Enterprises, they were very open to sitting down and talking to students about this,” Dettloff said about food insecurity. “They recognize it as a problem, and they wanted to help. It was a great collaborative effort between students and dining services.”
Blum agrees. He and other members of CEPA talked with the director of residential & retail dining services Garrett DiStefano for nearly two years about possible solutions, announcing the new programs this past summer.
The new ‘unlimited meal plan’ (Unlimited DC) eliminates Dining Dollars and guest swipes in exchange for unlimited access to the dining commons and Grab n’ Go.
Priced at $2,912 per semester, Unlimited DC costs about $455 less than the Unlimited 500 plan and $247 less than Unlimited 250.
UMass also introduced its No Student Goes Hungry policy, in which a student may add an immediate three days’ worth of dining commons meals to their UCard. While only a one-time option, SPIRE will also send a notification to the Dean of Students Office to have an office staff member call the student in question so they may talk about more permanent solutions.
The UMass Gives On-Going Donations program listed on the UMass Dining website also encourages students to make donations for the Meal Plan Scholarship Fund, which will go toward furthering food security. The fund has raised about $18,000 so far.
Graduate students may also access their own cheaper meal plan, called Your Campus Meal Plan 2. The plan sells meals in blocks of 25 for $245, which counts for all campus dining commons and also for food up to $10.50 at retail dining places. Leftover swipes also roll over every year and have no expiration date.
Along with these new programs, Blum and CEPA Campaign and Advocacy Coordinator Barkha Bhandari discussed the next steps in combating food insecurity.
“It’s our job to continue putting that pressure on and keep having this conversation,” Blum said in reference to coordinating with UMass Dining and Auxiliary Enterprises.
Bhandari recalled protests at Hampshire Dining Commons. Last year, students representing CEPA, the Food Access Coalition and other student-led groups met to denounce the rising cost of meal plans, holding up signs with slogans like, “You can’t celebrate if we can’t eat!”
Bhandari said effective outreach to the student-body is key going forward.
“It has to be together… we have access to a lot of student groups and [UMass] Dining has the resources that we may not necessarily have. Even with all these new initiatives, they don’t mean anything until the students actually know that they exist.”
Student Life plans to release a 2019 version of their Financial Wellness survey during this semester, again measuring food insecurity.
Further details on Food Security Initiatives are located on the UMass Dining website. Students can also change their current meal plan on SPIRE (under the Meal Plan tab on the homepage).
Editor’s note: Barkha Bhandari is a contributor to the Massachusetts Daily Collegian.
John Buday can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.