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Food insecurity rises amid university closure

Last updated on March 20, 2020

The day before spring break started, most students were hopping in their cars to return home. Some would be going back to their families, some would be staying with friends. But for some students, that’s not an option.

Japanese exchange student Yukine Kamoi will be staying on campus for the duration of break but, this won’t be the first time the sophomore sociology major will be staying back while her classmates go home. 

International students, out-of-state students, or those who are wary of traveling home as coronavirus continues to spread are some of the students who will have to remain on campus. In the meantime, they will have to pay out of pocket for food for the eight days of the traditional spring break when dining halls close.

To prepare for the dining halls closing, Kamoi went shopping at Lidl and Target. At both stores, she was met with empty shelves. When Target was running out of rice, she began to worry.

“[Lidl was] running out of frozen food and meat and everything,”  Kamoi said. “It’s been kind of stressful having to buy groceries and having to cook by myself.”

Kamoi lives in a traditional dorm on-campus that has a small kitchen with an oven on the building’s first floor. Kamoi noticed that when dining halls closed last Friday afternoon, the fridge was filled with food from other students who also stayed in their dorms. 

“Some of my friends left last semester, so I got a lot of my pans from them, so I still have the pans so I can cook,”  Kamoi added. “But for the people that don’t have any pans, I think it’s going to be even more trouble because they have to buy everything.”

The limited dining options on campus during breaks are not uncommon. Every break, the University of Maryland closes residence and dining halls because “fewer than half a percent” of students are on campus, Bart Hipple, the assistant director of dining services, said.

“Students who are on campus [during breaks] are the exception, not the rule. If we were to open the dining halls for spring break, for example, that would cost about $150 per student,”  Hipple said. “That’s a really high tariff when fewer than half a percent of the students use that amenity.”

Last Tuesday, the University of Maryland President Wallace Loh announced in a campuswide email that classes are canceled for the week following spring break, and encouraged students to not return to campus until at least April 10.

From March 30 to at least April 10, students will be completing coursework remotely. 

Starting Sunday, March 22, students staying on campus will be able to use their dining plans again — but only at the South Campus Dining Hall.  

Warm lights shine over food choices at the South Campus Dining Hall as students pick their final meals before spring break. (Gabriel Bayona Sapag/La Voz Unida)

The South Campus Dining Hall will provide two meals per day until in-person classes resume. They will serve brunch from 10 a.m. to 1:30 p.m., and dinner from 4:30 p.m. to 6:30 p.m.

Mike Lurie, a spokesperson for the University System of Maryland, said that as of March 13, the USM is unsure if and how students who aren’t returning to campus during the period of online learning will be reimbursed for room and board costs.

Dining services’ focus on limiting the hours of operation at the dining hall is to reduce costs and food waste, Director Colleen Wright-Riva wrote in an email. Still, dining services have proven to be committed to reducing food insecurity on campus, after opening the Campus Pantry, back in the fall of 2014.

The Campus Pantry provides food and ingredients to the campus community, beyond just dry foods. Its primary purpose is to combat food insecurity, which affects approximately 20 percent of students, according to a 2018 study conducted by the university’s counseling center. Now located on the ground floor of the university health center, dining services is looking to expand the pantry to include refrigeration to their services,  Hipple said. 

During spring break, the campus pantry will not be open at all.

After March 20 through April 10, the Campus Pantry will be open on Tuesdays and Fridays from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. until new developments occur. 

“We take care of people who are willing to step forward. [We] do not ever require proof of need. The fact that you’re going to ask is enough proof for us because it’s hard to ask,”  Hipple said.

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