Feeding quarantined/isolated students requires effort

Binghamton University Dining Services creates delivery plan

Meals ready for delivery to on-campus students who are in isolation or quarantined. Image Credit: Provided.
Meals ready for delivery to on-campus students who are in isolation or quarantined.
Meals ready for delivery to on-campus students who are in isolation or quarantined. Photography: Provided.

To support the student experience while the campus manages the spread of COVID-19, Binghamton University Dining Services (BUDS) has created a comprehensive meal delivery service for students in campus isolation or quarantine housing. This new but necessary service is a welcome bright spot for students who find themselves in this unexpected circumstance.

Since the program’s inception, more than 6,000 meals have been delivered to isolated and quarantined students. The feedback BUDS has been overwhelmingly positive from both students and their families.

“In addition to building stronger relationships with campus partners, it has been incredibly rewarding to hear the relief of parent voices over the phone when they’re reassured that their students are being looked after,” said Cait Crisman, the University’s emergency management assistant and supervisor of the Safe Housing team supporting students. “We also love seeing students out and about around campus post-quarantine or isolation. They often wave and say hi. It’s the little things that make the hard work worth it.”

Through the meal delivery service, freshly made, warm, nutritious meals are delivered to students twice each day. Students pre-order their meals through an online form that is made available to them when they first move into isolation and quarantine housing. They choose from a variety of meal options, as well as identify any dietary restrictions or preferences they may have. Additionally, students with specific concerns or dietary needs are encouraged to contact the BUDs dieticians, who work with them to find solutions.

The process of meal preparation and delivery is made possible by a partnership between BUDS and the Office of Emergency Management (OEM). First, students place their orders using the online form a full day prior to delivery. The meals are then made fresh by the BUDS team; culinarians at the Chenango Champlain Collegiate Center (C4) Dining Hall prepare and package the food daily.

“The meal orders are assigned to a team member at each of the food platforms operating at C4, and the BUDS team member assembles the item they are preparing that day,” said John Enright, general manager for BUDS resident dining. “The lunch cook may have to prepare and package three meatball sub plates and two grilled chicken plates, while the grill cook may have to assemble four burgers and a Philly Cheesesteak, and so on for each of the seven platforms, including the Kosher Korner and Simple Servings.”

After the meals are prepared and packaged, the Catering Department steps in and labels each of the bags the meals are delivered in, assembles all the cold components of the orders and places the hot meals in a portable warmer for delivery. That same team then transports the meals to isolation and quarantine housing.

Finally, isolation/quarantine space coordinators — the OEM Safe Housing team — bring the meals to the students’ rooms. The team has received required specialized training that allows them to safely enter spaces designated for quarantine or isolation to deliver meals directly to the students.

Teamwork is the backbone of this initiative, contributing to the overall success of the meal delivery program. The flexibility and dedication from OEM and BUDS staff has helped to provide quality service to students and overcome challenges, such as how to provide meals to students when they first move into isolation or quarantine housing, but have not yet had a chance to pre-order their meals.

“This is where the tremendous teamwork comes into play between Safe Housing and Dining Services,” said Crisman. “The isolation/quarantine space coordinators work to provide new students a menu as soon as possible and send their choices directly to staff in C4 in an effort to make it in time.”

As for the food itself, BUDS has made it a priority to be considerate of the nutritional needs of students while providing quality, delicious meal options. Snacks and other comfort foods are also available to order and help make students’ experience in quarantine or isolation as positive as possible.

Menus include a wide variety of breakfast, lunch and dinner options, including soup, salads, fresh fruit, sandwiches, pizza, desserts, beverages, vegan and vegetarian options, Kosher and Halal meals, and more. With a 35-day rotating menu, students have the power of choice that they would have in the dining halls, including the same options that are available on themed menu nights.

Students with special dietary needs are also taken into consideration when menus are initially created.

“Our chef Sam Pfaffenbach, along with our dietitians, has done a great job taking care of these students by creating and offering menu options such as Friday night Shabbat boxes and meals during Yom Kippur and Rosh Hashanah, as well as all of our offerings from our [allergen-friendly] station,” explained Enright.

Recently, BUDS has also incorporated themed snack bundles for students to pre-order in addition to their regular meals, including a “movie bundle” with microwavable popcorn and various candies, and a “Green Day Friday” bundle with green tea, green marshmallow crispy treats, green grapes and chips with guacamole.

Going forward, providing fresh and nutritious meals to students in isolation and quarantine will remain an essential part of BUDS’ business model. Meal deliveries will continue into the upcoming winter break and spring semester.

Posted in: Campus News