New Brunswick

Some students not happy with plans for campus meals under COVID-19 restrictions

The COVID-19 pandemic is forcing universities to change the way it provides food to students, and some are finding the new plans hard to swallow.

Cutting back hours, bringing in a golf-cart food truck among plans at N.B. universities

Universities re-opening this September are making decisions about how to feed students throughout the school year, given COVID-19 restrictions. (Sherry Vivian/CBC)

The COVID-19 pandemic is forcing universities to change the way food is provided to students, and some are finding the new plans hard to swallow.

University meal halls and dining areas are a shared space where students typically gather to laugh, relax and talk about their classes and plans for the weekend.

But this year those spaces are going to look different, as COVID-19 restrictions put limits on the number of people allowed inside a shared space at once. 

St. Thomas University in Fredericton announced last week it will only offer one meal plan at a cost of $3,995, which students in residence are required to pay. Around 120 to 130 students are expected to move into residence.

Physical distancing will be enforced and self-serve food stations won't be offered. 

Students will also have less money on their meal plan to spend at on-campus fast food stations. Normally students would receive $500, but this year they'll only receive $200 because one of the two venues is closed. 

St. Thomas has two dining rooms, but only one location, at Rigby Hall, will be operating. Its hours are lunch from 12 p.m. to 2 p.m. and dinner from 5:30 p.m. to 7 p.m. 

Jeffrey Carleton, spokesperson for St. Thomas, said the university chose to refrain from offering breakfast based on students' sleep schedule. 

Sarah Kohut, president of St. Thomas University's Students' Union, is worried students living in residence will have to pay extra to get breakfast for themselves, since the university's meal hall won't be open until noon each day. (Sarah Kohut/Facebook)
 

"This year with remote teaching, our classes are going to be asynchronous. So we expect that students will be getting up later in the morning, going to bed later in the evening," Carleton said. The university is also offering its single-occupancy rooms at a cheaper double-room rate to help make up the cost to students.

Sarah Kohut, president of St. Thomas University Students' Union, is worried about her university's decision to scrap breakfast for students in residence. 

"I believe that all the changes together will likely result in students having to supplement the cost of their their meals with money out of their pocket, which isn't the most ideal situation to be in for the coming year, given the financial strain that everyone's in," she said, adding she understands the university has to make changes in light of COVID-19 restrictions. 

Other students are disappointed in the plan as well, she said.

Kohut, who lives off campus, normally signs up for a lighter meal plan that allows her to grab something quickly if she can't make it home between classes to cook. That plan isn't offered this year.

Kohut said the students' union was not consulted about the St. Thomas' plan for its dining hall. 

UNB offering limited food services

Down the hill at the University of New Brunswick's Fredericton campus, students will live in dormitories with private kitchenettes to allow individuals to prepare their own meals. Food services will be limited, according to the university's website. Spokesperson Heather Campbell couldn't elaborate further on the institution's plan in time for publication.

Food services will be available on the UNB Saint John campus, but Plexiglass will be installed and strict physical distancing practices and Public Health measures will be enforced. 

St. Thomas University will only have one meal hall open this year, at Rigby Hall. (CBRE.ca)
 

In an email, Campbell said 205 students are expected to move into Saint John residence. The Baird Dining Hall in Saint John will be open with seating for between 50 and 65 people, she said. 

Mount Allison brings in mini food truck

Students who live in residence at Mount Allison University must be on a meal plan, but will have the ability to take their meals to go if they don't want to eat in the dining hall. 

Students will also be able to attend pop-up barbecues each week and grab food from a golf cart food truck.

The food truck will also be used to deliver meals to students who can't go to the dining hall because of illness.

UNB will be housing students in dorms with kitchenettes so they can cook their own meals. (Google Maps)
 

Jonathan Ferguson, president of Mount Allison Students' Union, said the students' union didn't collaborate with the university on the food truck, but he's excited about it.

"It's something that we've all sort of had to think a lot about, not just the food … but a lot of the services students are offered and how to work with these new restrictions and guidelines, that are meant to keep people safe, in a way that's creative and engaging and fun," Ferguson said. 

Like St. Thomas, meal plans will not be available to off-campus students, there will be no self-serve options and physical distancing and Public Health measures will be enforced. 

Jennings Dining Hall will be open weekdays from 7 a.m. to 8:30 p.m. and from 8:30 a.m. to 7 p.m. on weekends. An express station with ready-to-go meals will stay open until 10 p.m. Sunday to Thursday.  

The price of the meal plan has been reduced this year from $4,981 to $4,731 since a late night meal option is no longer available.

Université de Moncton couldn't comment on its plan yet. 

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