When a dining manager at Corcoran Commons noticed two students with garbage bags clearing the shelves of chips and other food items at the end of last semester, he quickly asked them to stop. This wasn’t a case of students with extra meal plan money buying the food for themselves, but an effort to donate food from the dining hall to charity, a project led by Molly McFadden, CSOM ’19.
Earlier in the week, McFadden had posted in class Facebook groups, asking students with extra meal plan money to donate food to local nonprofits. Students messaged her, pledging amounts they would donate during the food drive. McFadden coordinated the effort with several organizations, including St. Stephen’s Youth Program, Commonwealth Tenants Association, and Paraclete. By the afternoon of the food drive, students had pledged nearly $70,000.
According to Megan O’Neill, associate director of restaurant operations, it was explained to the dining managers that McFadden and her friends had extra meal plan money and were wondering if they could buy in bulk. BC Dining accommodates requests like this frequently at the end of the year, purchasing extra cases of drinks and chips so students can spend their leftover money. BC Dining was not prepared, however, for such a large number of students asking to buy in bulk.
McFadden found out that BC Dining couldn’t fulfill all the hot food orders she placed during the drive because of a lack of food in stock. She was told to tell the students who made pledges on Facebook not to come, and have students who were already at the dining hall to take items from the shelves, such as chips and bottled drinks. When a dining manager saw the amount of food being taken at once, he cut it off.
“It was never quite explained the large scope that she was trying to do,” O’Neill said.
The food drive was cut short at $15,000. The next day, she met with O’Neill and Director of BC Dining Elizabeth Emery and was able to raise another $10,000 of food because they wanted her to fulfill the commitments she made to the nonprofits.
BC Dining holds a charity point drive at the end of each academic year, donating food to the Greater Boston Food Bank. The food bank usually requests food like turkeys and potatoes, and Dining buys the food from its vendor and has it delivered to the food bank. BC Dining held the charity point drive in April. Each year, it raises about $10,000 worth of food. Dining puts a cap on how much can be raised in order to manage its annual budget.
“It’s better for the charities to get the food that they want versus … chips and Powerade,” O’Neill said.
When the food drive was shut down, concerns rose that students were not allowed to spend their meal plan money how they wanted.
“We want the students to spend their money,” Emery said. “And within reason, we are going to allow them. If it’s going to impact the rest of the community … we may make a judgement call.”
According to O’Neill, Dining wants to set the record straight to help students better understand its story.
BC Dining is one of three self-operated university dining programs in the Boston area.
Dining operates as its own business, independent from the University. It receives no tuition dollars. Its only source of funding is meal plans students purchase, primarily the mandatory meal plans, as the remaining funds on other plans are given back to students at the end of the year. BC Dining also pays expenses to the University, including the rent for its dining hall space and utilities.
BC Dining has a break-even bottom line. It does not try to make a profit. If there is any surplus of money at the end of the year, it is used to improve dining facilities. For example, a surplus a couple years ago allowed BC Dining to purchase new chairs for Hillside Cafe.
Food costs make up the largest portion of BC Dining’s budget at 37.1 percent. Labor costs account for 32.4 percent of the budget. Fringe benefits are 10.7 percent, rent and allocations are 7.7 percent, facility maintenance is 6.3 percent, and operating costs are 6 percent.
Each year, BC Dining also takes a portion of its budget and donates it to service trips through student-run point drives. It has funded large events like Relay for Life and the Red Bandana Run, as well as several student volunteer trips, such as Arrupe.
The mandatory meal plan is designated to students based on where they live. If a student lives in a dorm with a kitchen, they are not required to be on the meal plan. Five thousand two hundred students are on the mandatory meal plan each year.
The mandatory plan is geared toward the majority of eaters. Each day, $22 are allocated to students for meals.
“We know some students are going to run out, and we know some students are going to have money left over,” O’Neill said. “Our job, if we’re smart business people, is to help the majority of people have less than $200 left on their meal plan.”
During the semester, BC Dining tracks how students are spending their money. It does not want some students with lots of money leftover and some with no money left, so it creates extra opportunities for students to spend their money by having pop-up brunches and lobster dinners.
O’Neill describes this as “BC Dining’s story,” which she and Emery hope will reach more people.
“We are trying to train more students to know the story so that they can help present [it],” Emery said.
During McFadden’s meeting with Emery and O’Neill, the group discussed ways to plan a better, more organized food drive the next year. McFadden will be working with BC Dining in the next couple months to help with its annual charity point drive and make sure the money will go to organizations students care about. They plan to hold a point drive in December.
“I had many individuals reach out to me who are planning to work with me on this year’s drive,” McFadden said. “All of the non-profits expressed a tremendous amount of gratitude to all of those who donated, and I am excited to work towards making the drive even bigger this year.”
Featured Image by Arthur Bailin / Heights Senior Staff