During the peak nights of winter storm Juno in late January, scatterings of sleeping bags, blankets, and pillows covered the floors of every major dining hall on Boston College’s campus. Harsh weather conditions left roads too dangerous to drive, and with MBTA services universally cancelled, Boston College Dining Services employees spent multiple nights on campus due to the danger implicit in attempting to make it back to their own homes.
Unlike many groups of University employees, Dining Services staff members are needed regardless of class cancellations and administrative closing. Keeping the dining halls open during these emergency events poses a challenge for the employees themselves and for dining administrators.
“We’re essential personnel, so whether or not they close school we have to figure out a way to feed the 9,000 students on campus and then anybody else, including other essential personnel like facilities, health services, and police,” said Beth Emery, Director of Dining Services. “Our employees know that they are required to come.”
While employees know they must report to work regardless of weather circumstances, what makes matters slightly more complicated is that BCDS administrators, including Emery herself, are kept in the dark on the University’s decision-making process on snow day cancellations until the rest of the academic community is notified as well.
“We don’t typically find out until it’s announced,” Emery said. “Dining has nothing to do with the decision. There was one [snow day notification] that didn’t come out until early the next morning, and we didn’t know. We had a hunch, but we never communicate with the officials. We find out when students do.”
Due to the well-publicized nature of each storm this semester, managers at Corcoran Commons, McElroy, and Stuart dining halls have been able to prepare in advance for employees needing to stay one or more nights on campus.
“During the first snowstorm, the general managers of each of the main locations went out the day before and bought air mattresses, sleeping bags, and other items,” Emery said. “A lot of the employees that have been here for awhile brought their own sleeping bags and pillows.”
According to Emery, 55 BC Dining employees slept over the first night of Juno, followed by 25 on the storm’s second night. For the three subsequent storms—the most recent of which did not result in a University cancellation—21, 45, and 31 employees, respectively, slept in the dining halls overnight.
While the majority of BC Dining employees have been able to spend nights on campus to ensure that student and community needs are met, weather conditions the past few weeks have been grueling enough to render high numbers of employees unable to commute to BC in the first place. In turn, the principle challenge for Emery and her administrative colleagues within Dining Services has been to allocate staffing between the dining halls, and at times closing smaller operations in order to ensure that mainstays have been kept open.
“We see what our staffing is and then we make a decision about consolidating operations,” Emery said. “It’s easier on weekends because we don’t have as many operations anyway so our priority is to open the three main dining locations, which we’ve been able to do. We may make modifications where Eagles Nest employees may work at McElroy or Addie’s employees may work in Lower.”
Another hurdle caused by recent snow conditions has been maintaining the quality of food from a freshness standpoint in the event that deliveries face delays due to poor road conditions. Each major dining hall on campus generally receives deliveries from suppliers most days of the week, meaning any lapses or delays necessitate diligent planning and real-time adjustments to keep quality high.
Emery indicated that delivery vehicles were unable to make scheduled drop-offs during the first storm, Juno, due to road conditions. However, because the cancellation of the deliveries was communicated in advance, BCDS was able to consolidate enough of “the basics” in the three main dining halls to ensure students’ needs were met. This came at a contrast to other universities in the area, some of which, according to Emery, were pushed to hand out boxed lunches instead of hot food when they began to run out of essential items.
While conditions throughout the past few weeks have been difficult for Dining Services employees, Emery notes that there is a certain sense of pride that drives the positive morale of these staffers and pushes them to continue serving the University community to the best of their ability during times of need.
“I’ve only been here a year and a few months,” she said. “I’m amazed at the dedication of the team and the sense of pride in being a member of the essential team. They realize the impact they have—the community has to eat.”
Featured Image by Arthur Bailin / Heights Editor