The Caf’s stricter policies stem from a concern with the new Pay it Forward program
Students might have noticed changes to the meal swipe program at the Pat Case Dining Center around the beginning of the school year. Mike Neal, the food service director on campus, said that these are not so much changes but rather an enforcing of existing rules.
Some of these rules include only swiping your own ID card, swiping a maximum of three times a day for most meal plans and not allowing you to swipe for a meal period that has already passed. Students abusing the system, sometimes unknowingly, caused the recent implementation of the rules.
“What we think was happening is that our cashier saw that all these buckets were open at one time, and yet it wasn’t necessarily programmed where one opens and closes and it’s gone forever,” said Mike Neal. “We think it was more like, ‘Hey, you have four meals left for today, why don’t you use them?’”
The computer program used for the meal swipes has different buckets for each meal period where, once one passes, the program should not allow cashiers to swipe students for an already-passed meal. This is standard in cafeterias across the United States.
Other confusion arose around guest swipes. Trace Kast, the resident dining manager, clarified. Only first- and second-year meal plans have guest swipes, but all students are allowed to use extra swipes as a guest swipe, Kast said, “As long as that period hasn’t ended. I’m OK with you coming in and letting a friend do that.”
Of all the changes, Neal said that, “The only thing we really really felt compassionate about to really cracking down on is bringing someone else’s card that wasn’t present at the time of the swipe. There is a few exceptions on that. If your roommate is sick and you know she’s sick, you say, ‘I’m taking her food because she can’t get out of bed.’ There has never been a problem or I think an abuse to that.”
The biggest of the changes the cafeteria endured was brought on by the students. In March of 2018, the university started a meal voucher program for the food-insecure around campus. Students could donate their unused meals during the week to help out other TU students who needed a meal.
“Trace [Kast] is really good at taking the names, and then however many want to donate, and then we create vouchers and then we hand out the vouchers to four departments on campus that can identify the need,” said Neal. “But more important, [we] give it out anonymously so that there’s not someplace that everyone knows that you’re walking in that you must need something.”
The four places where students can anonymously pick up the vouchers include the housing office, the financial aid office, Student Affairs and CSAS. Food insecurity is typically described as not knowing where one’s next meal is coming from and not having the resources to get enough food.
Neal said the reason they set the meal voucher program up this way is that, “We have people that would love to gift money to the university for food insecurity — the only catch-all problem that we have is that a lot of people would want to give, [and what] we’re stuck with is how do we gift and they know their gift went to a food insecure [person] anonymously, because once you put a name or a student ID down, you can affect someone’s financial aid.”
Last year, the meal voucher program donated around 55 meals. This semester, there has only been around five or six. This decline caused Kast and Neal to worry that TU’s new program Pay-it-Forward is cutting into helping the food-insecure on campus.
“I don’t have a problem with running both of [the meal swipe donation programs] simultaneously,” said Neal. “My problem is that I feel like, as a steward of students here on campus, we need to find a way to keep some notion of a program going,” because he would have administrators call and tell him that they have students sitting outside his office that had not eaten that day.
Kast agreed with Neal: “The participation has fallen off this semester quite a bit, and I’m not sure if it’s because people are already donating at the C-Store and they think that’s a donation [to the food-insecure on campus], but it’s kind of cutting into this program, is my perception.”
Before the program came along, Neal gave out his business card with signatures on it to let students eat for free. This semester, he advanced several vouchers to some of these offices without a student donation, he said, “because we were hoping that this program would keep going.”
“The problem… this year is that I didn’t know that last year that Carter [Bradford] was working on [Pay it Forward], so when he came to me and told me he wanted to put out a table, my worry was that we are actually taking from the food-insecure on campus and giving it to the homeless,” said Neal.
Neal and Bradford worked together to keep Bradford’s Pay it Forward going at the C-Store and the meal voucher program at the cafeteria. In one week, students donated 117 meals to Pay-it-Forward and only a few to the food-insecure on TU’s campus.
“We think it’s a good program,” said Neal about the meal voucher program. “We want to keep going with it until there is no more food insecurity on campus.”