Laurentian student asks university to expand on-campus food options during COVID-19

A new petition is calling on Laurentian University to expand options available for students to access food on campus as the pandemic goes on.

Only 1 per cent of student body on campus this fall, says school

This fall Laurentian required any students living in residences that require a meal plan to buy $500 flex dollars. In addition to food provided at the school's cafeteria, flex dollars are currency issued by Laurentian University, to be used at on-campus restaurants and convenience stores. (Robin De Angelis/CBC)

A new petition is calling on Laurentian University to expand the food options available to students on campus as the pandemic continues, saying it's unfair to require students to buy into a scaled-back meal plan that doesn't serve their needs.

The petition says campus dining options have shrunk considerably during the pandemic and despite the smaller number of places to get food, students living on campus in residences that require a meal plan were still made to purchase $500 of flex dollars, per semester, with their meal plans. 

Flex dollars are currency issued by the school to be used at on-campus restaurants, coffee shops and convenience stores. They function on a declining balance system much like a debit card. Each time students swipe their meal cards to use the flex dollars, the balance is reduced. 

Colin Mar is the fourth year student behind the petition, which has garnered more than 400 signatures so far. 

"We had 14 locations on campus to get food, and of those 14, only four of them are open now with drastically reduced hours, leaving myself and other students with very limited options to use this money this year, and get food accessibly and conveniently while we are stuck doing online classes," Mar said. 

"I'm feeling slightly let down because we are paying high amounts for residence." 

Mar said he's proposing the university partner with local retailers near the school like restaurants and grocery stores so that the flex dollars can be spent there, in addition to the few remaining options left on campus. 

'The offerings have had to be reduced'

Ben Demianiuk, the director of business development for Laurentian, says that suggestions is among several his department is currently considering to help provide alternative options for students. However, he noted the pandemic continues to present challenges. 

"I think right now, we're at about one per cent of students that are required to study on campus or access campus," he said, "So the demands have really reduced and so the offerings have had to be reduced."

Other options the university is mulling over, Demianiuk said, are meal or veggie kits with fresh produce for students to purchase with their flex dollars on campus and a grocery bus, which would shuttle students from campus to a local grocery store. Both ideas are still in their early stages of development and have not been committed to by the school. 

Demianiuk said partnerships like the one Mar is suggesting, require a significant commitment from local retailers and may not be financially beneficial for them during a challenging time like COVID-19, especially considering the small number of students using the campus this year.

The good news, Demianiuk said, is that if returning students find themselves unable to use up their flex dollars this year, they can carry them forward to next year.


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