At the end of last semester, 964 students decided not to let their leftover meals go to waste by participating in a turkey drive sponsored by Dining Services.
For 10 meals, students could donate one turkey to a Fredericksburg food bank.
Senior Kaley Huston participated in the drive and estimates having over 30 unused meals at the end of last semester.
“I think [the turkey drive was] a great idea and is a really effective way, at least for right now, in addressing the overwhelming number of unused meals,” said Huston. “It is a great addition to the philanthropy that I think UMW prides itself on.”
Although Dining Services has arranged canned food drives and volunteer days at local homeless shelters in the past, the turkey drive was the most successful event of its kind, according to General Manager Kori Dean.
Approximately one-third of the 2,858 students who purchased a meal plan participated in the drive.
Dean said the idea came from a student on the Dining Committee, who was inspired by previous food drives.
Dining Committee is a group of student representatives that meets with the Dining Services staff regularly throughout the school year to keep them informed on student dining needs and preferences.
The group plans events, such as the turkey drive, and offers feedback to help influence future improvements regarding Dining Services.
The notable increase in extra meals last semester, compared to previous years, is attributed to new meal plans introduced at the beginning of the 2010-2011 school year.
“This was the first time we have had block meal plans,” explained Dean. “Previous meal plans were recharged each week […] if you were on a 15 meal plan, on Friday mornings you received 15 meals to use as you wished. This year the 15 meal plan became a 225-block plan, which meant students have 225 meals at the beginning of the semester to use whenever they would like.”
According to the Dining Services website, students still get 15 meals a week with the 225-block plan, but it’s up to them to keep track from week to week.
The shift to block plans was made due to the high volume of students who requested a change in the way meal plans work. Dean explained that the Dining Committee also conducted an extensive research project last school year to see what types of meals plans other Virginia universities offer.
According to the universities’ websites, the College of William and Mary and the University of Virginia both offer block and weekly options.
James Madison University only provides three meal plan choices, all of which are weekly, that are mandatory for residential students. Virginia Tech’s meal plans consist of a set number of flex dollars to be used at campus dining locations throughout the semester.
For 2010-2011, UMW offered six different meal plan options, including the Super Meal Plan, which gives students an unlimited amount of meals each semester to be used at Seacobeck Hall, and the five meal plan, which provides commuter students with five meals each week. The remaining four are block plans.
Another change made this year was the addition of five guest meals students could use for visitors. The amount of flex dollars included with each meal plan was also increased. According to Dean, these additions were made based on student feedback.
In the past, said Dean, unused meals would disappear at the end of each week, so many students were never aware when they had extras.
With the new changes, students can be more aware of how many meals they are actually using.
“[Last semester] some students did not budget [meals] as well as others. We had a few students that ran out before the end of the semester and then many that had meals leftover,” Dean explained.
Junior Megan Martin has the 90-block plan, which offers students who live in the UMW Apartments or Eagle Landing six meals each week, and ran out of meals before the end of last semester.
In order to keep track of how many meals they have, students must check the printed receipts given to them each time they use a meal.
“I wish you could look online to see how many meals you have,” said Martin. “I didn’t always remember to check the receipts.”
However, Martin did say that most of her friends ended the semester with plenty of extra meals.
Because this is the first year the university has had exclusively block meal plans for residential students, Dean said they are still fine tuning the system and working out issues as they arise. She mentioned, for example, that they are considering eliminating the 275-block plan in the future, which provides students with 19 meals each week, as that option was the least popular among students.
According to Dean, students have been receptive of the block meal plans and, after some tweaking, they will be offered again next semester.