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Town hall sheds light on dining issues

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(Left) Mark Vallaro addresses students (right) over dining concerns at a Student Government sponsored Town Hall on Feb. 18 in Crawford Hall (Photo by Louis Annenberg)

(Left) Mark Vallaro addresses students (right) over dining concerns at a Student Government sponsored Town Hall on Feb. 18 in Crawford Hall (Photo by Louis Annenberg)

Despite students’ supposed zeal for food quality and availability as demonstrated by the recent protest, the number of attendees at Monday’s Town Hall Meeting about Drew Dining consisted primarily of Student Government members.

Food Service Director Mark Vallaro, Assistant Food Service Director Dan Walker and Student Government President Janelle Hoffman (’13) gave presentations on communicating with Drew Dining and the changes Drew Dining has made.

Opening his presentation, Vallaro informed students of the methods Drew Dining uses to gather feedback from students, and he stressed the importance of student communication with Drew Dining. He highlighted several avenues, such as Facebook (facebook.com/DrewDining), e-mail (dining@drew.edu), bi-weekly dining committee meetings and communication with Student Government.

Vallaro went on to describe several changes Drew Dining has been working towards, based on student feedback over the past two years. These changes include Commons options such as increasing sushi variety from two to four choices, implementing a dedicated vegetarian station, a consistent supply of garlic bread, theme nights like Burger Night, Wing Night and Seafood Fest and this semester, a make-your-own pasta station.

Walker then addressed recent and ongoing changes to retail items at the EC Food Court, Java City and the C-Store. He mentioned the addition of grab-and-go items, more gluten free options and an entrée dinner option featured at the Food Court’s grill. Referencing an example of responding to student feedback, he explained the implementation of monthly value meals at every Food Court station. For example, falafel is the grill’s value meal for February. Walker also explained the availability of gluten-free salad dressings at the EC. These salad dressings must be specifically requested, as they are not put out to prevent contamination. He also referenced the purchase of a F’real machine for the C-Store based on students’ desire for smoothies and milkshakes.

Walker then spoke about the changes made to hours of operation at several locations. Opening time changes include brunch at 10:30 a.m. instead of 11 a.m., the C-Store on Saturday mornings from 8-10 a.m. and Java City at 7:30 a.m. instead of 8 a.m. Closing times have also been adjusted, with the EC Food Court staying open until 10 p.m. instead of 9 p.m., except for days when it is open until 1 a.m.
As he closed his presentation, Walker briefly explained the introduction of block meal plans to allow students more flexibility as well the increase in student workers from last semester’s 10 percent of all Drew Dining workers to 33 percent, which he stated benefits students who desire on-campus jobs and Drew Dining’s increased access to available workers.

Before she opened the discussion to student questions, Hoffman emphasized that although nothing is perfect, students should know that Drew Dining is on the students’ side. She also stressed that students’ voices can be heard if they reach out to Student Government or Drew Dining itself in an appropriate and constructive manner such as speaking with Vallaro in his office located on the second floor of the Commons, speaking with a manager-on-duty to report immediate concerns like contamination, attending dining committee meetings, staying in contact with their class senators to relay suggestions and posting on Facebook, Twitter and Google Moderator.

Hoffman also acknowledged the work that Students For Sustainable Food has done. She introduced SFSF President Christina Ocampo (’13) who stood in the audience as she described Drew’s commitment to more real food by 2020.

Hoffman then opened it up for student comments. Vegetarian Maeve Olney (’13), acknowledged the improvements made for vegetarians, but also brought specific attention to the lack of veggie burgers on gourmet burger nights and the fact that pre-made salads in the Commons contain meat, making this option completely impossible for vegetarians. Vallaro responded by describing her comment as aptly identifying a situation that needs improving.

Another student addressed her concerns regarding the gluten-free zone where there is a high risk of contamination. Continuing the topic of contamination risks, another student brought up the concerns of students with peanut allergies. She explained that since the peanut butter container is in extremely close proximity to the jams and butters, the non-peanut butter spreads often become contaminated. Walker and Vallaro said they would look into it.

Near the conclusion of the Town Hall meeting, a student from the Theological School offered his sentiment regarding students’ complaints on food. He stressed that students should always report issues right away and for them to understand that feeding more than a thousand students can be difficult.

All of the comments and situations boil down to issues with communication and being proactive. Students need to advocate for themselves by reporting problems and relaying suggestions to Drew Dining and Student Government. Drew Dining needs to publicize the changes they are making as they make them, instead of backtracking after students become enraged. This could be in the form of campus-wide e-mails or more town hall meetings that are publicized better to increase attendance. Proper, effective and timely communication is the key to unlocking improvement.