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Decision to limit meals to only dinner sparks food accessibility concern among students

Kyla Sorensen outside the Fairhaven Commons on Jan. 30, 2021. Sorensen called attention to meal inaccessibility at the Commons with a digital campaign and petition. // Photo by Sadie Fick

By Sophia Pappalau

Fairhaven Complex residents were left with reduced dining options after Western Washington University Dining Services and University Residences made the decision to limit hours at Fairhaven Commons to only dinner service. 

During the final week of fall quarter, on Dec. 8, 2020, Western Dining Services sent an email announcement to meal plan holders informing them that starting winter quarter 2021, Fairhaven Commons would only be open Monday through Sunday for dinner, from 5:00 p.m. to 7:30 p.m. 

The Haven Market, also known as the P.O.D. Market, would see increased hours, Monday through Friday from 9:30 a.m. to 7:00 p.m, and Saturday through Sunday from 1:00 p.m. to 6:00 p.m.

During fall quarter, Fairhaven Commons was open Monday through Friday for breakfast and lunch from 7:30 a.m. to 2:00 p.m. and dinner from 5:00 p.m. to 7:30 p.m. It was open for brunch Saturday through Sunday from 10:00 a.m. to 1:30 p.m.

Assuming drastically fewer students would return to campus winter quarter because of spikes in COVID-19 cases, University Dining Services and University Residences decided to reduce the number of open hours at Fairhaven Commons, said Stephen Wadsworth, resident district manager at Aramark Higher Education

There are 909 students on different meal plans across campus for the winter quarter, Wadsworth said. This number is a 2.5% decrease from the 932 fall quarter meal plan holders, Wadsworth said.

“We normally experience attrition from fall to the winter term of about 3.5% to 4%,” Wadsworth said. “We really expected this to be higher given the pandemic.”

Concerned that reduced hours posed food accessibility issues for south campus residents, Fairhaven Hall Council President Kyla Sorensen and Vice President of Finance Carson Failor created “Feed Fairhaven,” a petition calling for the re-introduction of breakfast and lunch at Fairhaven Commons. 

To substitute the loss of breakfast and lunch, Sorensen said she tried the meal options at the Haven Market but found they failed to meet her dietary restrictions. 

“[The Haven Market] has chips, candy, frozen foods, minimal healthy options ... It made me continuously more upset just thinking about how many students the loss disproportionately affected,” Sorensen said. “Then you have students with disabilities who aren't able to walk to north campus to eat at Viking Commons.”

Students with a meal plan can use meals or Dining Dollars in any dining halls on campus, except for Ridgeway Commons, which is closed because of COVID-19. The Fairhaven Complex’s distance to Viking Commons is 0.8 miles, approximately a 50-minute walk roundtrip.

Meal plan costs added another layer to the issue, Sorensen said. The lowest cost option for room and board for residence halls excluding Buchanan Towers and Birnam Wood — 80 meals with no Dining Dollars — costs $3,587. 

“People are paying this huge meal plan price with the expectation that they'll be fed three meals a day,” Sorensen said. “So there's that aspect along with students who have to work outside of school who aren't available to get even dinner during that really brief two-hour window.”

Failor said he works at Trader Joe’s and makes up for the lack of access to Fairhaven Commons with groceries from his job. 

Alana Rhone, a USDA Economic Research Service agricultural economist, said income and resource constraints are potential barriers to accessing healthy food. 

“If I didn't have a job at Trader Joe's, it would be a lot more inconvenient for me,” Failor said. “Even more so for people without cars especially or modes of transportation.”

University Dining Services reinstated brunch Jan. 14, giving residents access to two meal options a day at Fairhaven Commons. 

“Upon our reopening several weeks ago we realized that the plan for Fairhaven was not a viable solution for our students on south campus,” Wadsworth said. 

Brunch operates at Fairhaven Commons Monday through Sunday, 11:00 a.m. to 1:00 p.m.

“I would have liked to see all three meals be reinstated,” Sorensen said. “But I do understand that the lack of students on campus this year has taken a huge financial toll on the university.”


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