Dining adapts to serve students safely during COVID-19

At+the+entrance+to+the+now-empty+Dining+Hall.+Photo+contributed+by+Anonymous.

At the entrance to the now-empty Dining Hall. Photo contributed by Anonymous.

The news that the Grinnell College campus would be closing for the semester was delivered around lunchtime. The Dining Hall, a minute before busy with the midday rush, came to a standstill as hundreds of students read the Campus Memo, a wave of realization rippling through the packed tables.

Over a month later, the chairs in the Dining Hall now sit vacant.

The Dining Hall is still functioning in a limited capacity to serve meals to the students whose petitions to stay on campus were approved. In accord with strict safety procedures, Dining Hall and Facilities Management staff have been coordinating meal delivery to dorms to allow students to comply with social distancing. Facilities Management has set up tables in the loggia outside of each dorm, which they refill with boxed meals for students to pick up at each mealtime.

The College gave students currently living off-campus the option to opt out of their meal plan and be refunded for the cost of the rest of the semester. Those living on campus are still required to be on a meal plan. Students who were forced to move from college-owned language and project houses into dorms were also given a meal plan at no extra expense.

Due to a shortage of student staff, the Dining Hall has greatly reduced the variety of food options available at each meal. Instead of the usual plethora of stations, the Dining Hall is serving two meal options: one meat and one vegan. Students remaining on campus filled out a survey indicating which option they prefer, which they are now served at every meal. The survey also asked for students to specify at what mealtimes they prefer to be served their meals if on a plan with less than 20 meals a week.

Students say that they’ve noticed an increase in food quality, with stronger and more consistent vegan options being offered.

“They have been popping off. I think because the chefs are able to spend more time cooking the food and they don’t have to feed as many people,” said Hudson Clulow ‘23, who is still living on campus.

Clulow is one of 23 students still working in the Dining Hall. According to Director of Dining Services Jeanette Moser, “All part-time and full-time staff may work a reduced schedule but are being paid for their regular pre-COVID hours.” This applies to non-student workers but is not the case for students who lost their work study jobs with Dining Services.

The Union of Grinnell Student Dining Workers (UGSDW) has been advocating for student workers throughout the process, including in an April 8 open letter to President Kington. One of their demands was for workplace health protections for on-campus workers.

All staff members still working in the Dining Hall have employed extra safety measures to ensure an even more sanitary work environment than usual.

“I don’t feel super at-risk walking into D-Hall and going into work,” said Clulow. “Mostly because every surface in there is coated in soap and sanitizer, and every person there has had to wash their hands thoroughly at least three times an hour and everyone is wearing masks.”

Dish room Supervisor Hamid Sidi said that social distancing rules are being enforced inside the Dining Hall for all staff – the customary six feet have been respected and all staff are wearing gloves, masks and face shields.

Clulow said that as a student worker, they have not been allowed to have any direct contact with food. Instead they have worked shifts sanitizing dishes and equipment or bagging prepackaged snacks into bagged meals.

Yet the job has changed in more than just the amount of safety precautions taken.

“I’m really missing working with a lot of students and I’m really missing their regular service.” said Sidi. “Hopefully, all this will end soon, because all students I know are having a difficult time with online classes. So, when a student comes in, I also check in with them now. … I ask them how their families are, how they’re doing, if they need anything, you know?”