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UMass Dining encourages different programs to prevent hunger in Amherst

Graphic by Randy Crandon

(Graphic by Randy Crandon)

The University of Massachusetts’ Dining Services will attempt to fight hunger in the Amherst area through different programs and drives over the next year.

These programs include fundraisers for organizations like the Amherst Survival Center, long-term awareness campaigns and the supporting of student-led initiatives to prevent hunger.

“There’s a distinct need that’s out there,” said Garett DiStefano, the director of Residential Dining. “There’s ways that we can provide food to groups that need it.”

DiStefano said that UMass Dining has an involved relationship with the Amherst Survival Center, which provides programs designed to help people meet their basic needs. He cited the 5K Dine and Dash, an annual fundraiser run that raises money for the Amherst Survival Center, as one such example.

DiStefano also said that UMass Dining is preparing to provide food to those in need of it on Thanksgiving by providing a Thanksgiving dinner through the Amherst Survival Center, and that Ken Toong, the executive director of the entity that includes UMass Dining, Auxiliary Enterprises, is on the Amherst Survival Center’s Board of Directors.

In addition, DiStefano described the Food Recovery Network, a student-initiated program supported by UMass Dining.

“They go into Worcester Dining Common at 9 p.m.” he said. “Whatever may not have been taken by students is taken to the First Baptist Church.”

There, students are able to repurpose the leftover food as hot meals for the hungry.

“It provides an opportunity to use food that we otherwise couldn’t repurpose,” DiStefano said.

DiStefano also said that UMass Dining will be responding to the local issue of hunger by making next September Hunger Awareness Month.

“It is going to be a campus-wide movement,” he said. “It is on the forefront of our minds.”

While UMass Dining has many initiatives to fight hunger in the Amherst area, they are unable to repurpose leftover dining dollars and meal swipes at the end of each semester to give away to the hungry.

Claudia Brown, the director of finance at Auxiliary Enterprises, described how the pricing of meal plans each semester makes it difficult to give them away to the needy.

“How we price the meal plans each semester is based on the previous year’s usage,” she said. “It’s actually discounted by that amount.”

In order to give away swipes for the hungry in the Amherst area, Brown said, the price of the meal plans each semester would have to rise to reflect the lack of leftover meal swipes.

“Because we’re stewards of student money, we can’t give very legitimate causes their money,” added DiStefano.

Each semester, just under 10 percent of student meal swipes go unused, Brown said.

The idea of giving away leftover Dining Dollars, which have an exact monetary value, to students was also made difficult by the lack of leftover dining dollars, as roughly 98 percent of dining dollars are used each semester.

“I think the Dining Dollars are really having an interesting impact,” Brown said. “The minute you put dollar in the word, people make sure that every cent is spent.”

Brown said that while the dining dollars cannot be donated to the hungry, the high amount at which they are used helps prevent food waste on campus. She also mentioned how UMass Dining provides students who cannot afford dining options on campus with food in order to prevent hunger on campus.

Stuart Foster can be reached at stuartfoster@umass.edu or followed on Twitter @Stuart_C_Foster

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