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Students question where unused dining dollars are going during COVID-19

The Fairhaven dining hall is the only dining service open at this time, providing to-go meals only. Dining Dollars will roll over to Fall quarter. // Illustration by Rachel Alexander

By Cameron Sires

Western’s dining model is undergoing changes during COVID-19, causing many questions for students, who’ve started to move off campus.

Students who purchase a meal plan, receive dining dollars. Depending on your meal plan, dining dollars will vary. Viking Dollars are a prepaid debit account loaded onto Western Cards for use at all campus dining locations.

Madison Callaghan, a second-year biochemistry major, said she wanted to know what would happen to her dining dollars.

“The reason I still have leftover money, about $110, is that the dining packages are large,” Callaghan said. “Also, because of campus shutting down, I'm no longer buying lunch, bagel[s] or coffee which is primarily what I use my dining plan for.”

Stephen Wadsworth, Resident District Manager, said that unspent dining dollars will remain on student accounts until the end of fall quarter 2020 at which time they will expire.

“This assumes students spend their roll-over dining dollars first,” Wadsworth said. “This will be set up in their dining accounts to ensure this is the case.” 

Wadsworth said it’s different for students who aren't returning to Western for fall quarter.

“The student may request a refund of their unspent dining dollars should they choose to do so,” Wadsworth said. 

Western’s Dining Services website recommends canceling the optional meal plan by emailing

According to Westerns Campus Dish website, Viking dollars never expire and automatically roll-over into the next quarter. If students, faculty or staff want a refund due to graduation or withdrawal from the university they can email or call 360-650-2970.

Wadsworth said the Fairhaven dining hall is the only one of three normally operating on-campus dining halls serving students. Currently, the dining hall primarily caters to on-campus students with to-go meals but Wadsworth said it’s also accommodating off-campus students who wish to use cash, credit or Viking dollars to eat.  

“We do have a number of students from off campus who have purchased meal plans,” said Wadsworth, who could not give an estimate on the number of off campus students with meal plans

Callaghan said she has not used the to-go meal model because of the lack of information about the spread of COVID-19.

“I believed the best decision was to prepare and eat food with the least number of hands it's passed through before it gets to my plate,” she said.

Wadsworth said dining services enhanced the safety training to align with COVID-19 Centers for Disease Control guidelines.

“Our teams have been trained on the increased cleaning protocols per COVID-19 CDC guidelines including cleaning all high-touch and high-traffic items every 20 minutes,” he said. 

Wadsworth said this includes employees changing their gloves after every interaction with a customer and wiping down counters, door handles, knobs and light switches.

“We are checking with each employee prior to their shift starting on their health status per CDC guidelines, and following social distancing practices by limiting the service area to 10 guests at a time,” Wadsworth said. 

Wadsworth said the dining hall services are currently modeling scenarios for the fall quarter and serving styles.

“We will be prepared to implement per CDC/state guidelines,” he said. “We are working in partnership with the university to ensure the dining program meets the needs of all students.”

The Western website said they’ve established a Student Emergency Fund to provide financial relief for students. According to the website reserve would be a financial lifeline for Western students in crisis and help ensure that students' needs are met so they are able to remain at Western. 

Lindsey Macdonald, sustainability coordinator, said this helps Western students who’ve moved off-campus that are experiencing food and housing insecurity.

“Let’s say a student moved back to Colorado and can’t make rent, needs a computer, needs food or any other essentials. Western has a form that students can fill out their needs and get an electronic visa gift card as financial relief,” Macdonald said.

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