In this special edition of 5 Things, Food Management highlights five things you may have missed recently about developments regarding coronavirus and its impact on onsite dining.
Here’s your list for today:
1. Liberty University bucks higher ed trend, welcomes students back
Liberty University in Virginia welcomed students back to campus March 23rd with more than 1,100 students returning following spring break, bucking a trend set by most other major universities that have moved courses online and urged or required students to go home. Liberty has 100,000 students, the school's website says, of whom about 46,000 are undergraduates, with about 57% living on campus, the university says.
The students returned on the same day Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam announced that all K-12 schools in the state will remain closed for the rest of the school year. He previously imposed a 100-person limit on gatherings, which had prompted most of Liberty's programs to be moved online.
Liberty President Jerry Falwell Jr. said he and his executive leadership team met regularly to determine measures that needed to be taken for students to be able to return to their dorms and use the campus dining services that they paid for. By keeping residence halls open, Falwell said, the university is also able to accommodate international students who are unable to return home and those who commute. He said the school's dining services provider is adhering to the governor's 10-patron limit in restaurants.
He described the campus environment as "sort of a housing complex, with restaurants doing takeout."
Liberty’s Dining Services, which is managed by Sodexo, is offering a variety of food options to students who have decided to live on campus, with The Food Court at Reber-Thomas, Liberty's main dining hall, and 11 other campus dining locations remaining open for take-out.
“For the dining hall, the process will be that students will be let in and will be able to grab a box, or however many they feel they need,” said Duke Davis, district manager for Sodexo, Liberty's dining services provider. “The dining hall will give them access to pizza and burgers as well as a main entree for the day and an Asian food option.”
2. Memphis Schools suspends meal distribution after employee tests positive
Shelby County (Memphis) Schools in Tennessee suspended its meal distribution program for students after an employee in its nutrition department tested positive for the new coronavirus. The infected employee did not personally handle food, a district spokeswoman said, but the program was halted for now anyway.
Tennessee’s largest district serves 113,000 students, most of whom are from low-income families, and had been ramping up to begin serving 15,000 lunches a day beginning Monday the 23rd. Due to the spread of COVID-19, schools that already were on spring break will remain closed through at least April 3.
3. Restaurants offer free meals to healthcare workers
Some commercial restaurants are reacting to coronavirus by offering free meals to healthcare workers, potentially competing with those institutions’ in-house dining services. Some, like Augie’s Montreal Deli in Berkeley, Calif., are offering free meals to healthcare workers who visit the deli. Others are making deliveries. Last week, New York-staple Roberta’s Pizza posted a video on Instagram showing a massive delivery of pizza and salad to Brooklyn Methodist Hospital.
“It was a privilege to be able to offer some form of comfort to those who have been working literally nonstop to help keep this pandemic at bay,” Carlo Mirarchi, executive chef and co-owner of Roberta’s and Blanca, told Eater. Roberta’s, which has been offering pizza and pasta kits and some grocery provisions for pickup in order to keep cash flowing, also says it’s working on getting some new products together to easily deliver to hospitals.
It remains to be seen how much this good-heartedness impacts hospital nutrition services departments’ business, which is already impacted by widespread restrictions on visitors, a significant generator of retail dining revenues at many institutions.
4. Revolution Foods donates 33,000 meals to Massachusetts United Way
United Way of Tri-County in Massachusetts recently received a donation from Revolution Foods of Boston of 33,000 much-needed meals, including vegetables, chicken nuggets, waffles and crumb cakes, with a percentage of them also suitable for those with food allergies. Revolution Foods supplies fresh prepared meals from its own kitchens to school districts around the country, including Boston Public Schools.
United Way of Tri-County has seen a dramatic increase in people making use of the food programs offered since the coronavirus outbreak as in less than a week, 50 new families registered to receive food at the organization’s Framingham Pearl Street Cupboard and Café at Park Street while other pantries in the area have reportedly closed or have reduced ability to meet demand.
5. San Diego convention center to become homeless shelter
The San Diego Convention Center is being converted into a safe refuge for the homeless. The announcement by Mayor Kevin Faulconer follows the cancellation or postponement of more than two dozen events.
“The Convention Center is a centerpiece of San Diego’s economy and during this pandemic, it will be a centerpiece of our fight against the coronavirus,” Faulconer said. “Many events and conventions are on hold for the time being and right now there is no higher and better use for this facility.”
Now Convention Center caterers employed by Centerplate who typically serve convention-goers will be preparing boxed meals for homeless San Diegans.
Contact Mike Buzalka at [email protected]