Students plan for Thanksgiving break without meal plans

By Nia Harmon, Podcast Editor

Thanksgiving break is a much-deserved period of rest for students, faculty, and staff following the midterm season. 

However, college life presents a new change for students choosing to stay on Emerson’s campus this Thanksgiving, where no meals will be provided during the extended stay. Holiday breaks allow those who work hard in the classroom each week in addition to the college’s dining staff the same opportunity to rest before the end of the semester. All dining staff are employees of Bon Appétit, the company that provides the college’s food services.

“They work really hard all year and they deserve time off like everybody else,” said Jennifer Rogers, associate director of Customer Relations and Events on campus. “The college faculty, staff, and students have [Thanksgiving break] off, and Bon Appétit is an extension of the Emerson community, so they do deserve to have some time off as well.”

The dining staff’s hard work extends beyond the beginning and end of semesters, as preparations for the year start in advance. 

“My team does work extremely hard all year long, weeks before students even come back here,” added Dawn Sajdyk, resident district manager on campus with Bon Appétit. 

The hours of operation for Thanksgiving break are not picked at random, but instead a collaborative effort to ensure opening and closing transitions go smoothly.  

“For the most part, it’s the college and business services—our department—and campus services. We work with Bon Appetit to ensure the days [and] times, to make sure that we’re both on the same page,” Rogers said. 

While this break puts college life on pause, it also leaves some students who decided to stay on campus concerned about what to do for meals. With campus eateries not being in service during the break, those that remain in Boston over the break—many of whom did so to avoid pricey airline tickets and travel fees—must figure out their own meals amid high grocery costs.

Boston is among the top 1% of the most expensive places to live in the world, with the cost of living approximately 53% higher than the average for U.S. cities. The cost of groceries in Boston is also 18% higher than the national average. 

For students spending their Thanksgiving break on campus, this high price point has proven problematic, especially when those students must choose between groceries and a plane ticket home.

Mel Jones and Teya Sorenson are first year writing, literature, and publishing majors from North Carolina and Washington state who are opting to stay on campus over break because it’s more affordable.

“I didn’t want to pay for a plane ticket because it’s really expensive and I would only be spending three days back at home,” Jones said. “It was just a better option for me to stay on campus.”

While preferable to the cost of a plane ticket, staying in the residence halls is not as reasonable of an option as the two hoped. 

“You get a place to sleep and that’s pretty much it,” Sorenson said. “Everywhere on campus is shut down, except for where you’re staying … I have to pay for all my meals and everything out of my own pocket … which is a little bit stressful. I wish there were more accommodations for that.” 

This predicament has left both Jones and Sorenson to figure out creative ways to stay fed while on their own. 

“A friend of mine recommended this app, [TooGoodToGo],” Sorenson said. “You can get $30 [worth] of food for $5, so I’m probably going to be living off of that for most of [the break.] Maybe a couple ‘treating myself’ Thanksgiving day meals, but doing whatever I can for as cheap as possible.” 

As for Jones, a small grocery trip will have to suffice for the five-day break. 

“I’m basically saving all of my Board Bucks just to buy stuff at The Max right before, because I don’t have the budget,” Jones said. 

This decision to not have campus dining services open during break upset some students—both those choosing to stay and others going home—due to how much is being invested in the cost of attendance at the college alone. 

“I definitely think that’s a mistake on [the college’s] part,” Jones said. “They’re taking so much out of our tuition. They can charge us for vandalism but they can’t give us a meal plan? I think they could do better, for sure.”

Both school and personal property has been damaged and defaced in the Little Building, including visibly written hate speech. Due to this ongoing issue, the school has chosen to charge all Little Building residents for the cost of the vandalism, as the perpetrator has yet to come forward.

The Office of Student Success offers temporary solutions such as financial assistance to ensure students do not go without food while the campus is closed. 

“The student assistance fund was set up as sort of an emergency fund for students who have significant financial needs and need some extra help purchasing the indirect costs of attendance,” said Christopher Grant, director of the Office of Student Success and Belonging. 

Students can apply to Emerson’s Student Assistance Fund, which helps cover the indirect costs of college like semesterly MBTA passes, costs of film development, and textbooks. 

The application takes approximately five to seven business days to process, then is reviewed by Student Success and the Student Assistance Fund committee to ensure the department is able to cover the requested costs. After that, a direct deposit system is set into place so students can directly purchase the items they need.

The fund is designed to cover a wide range of financial needs to aid students during their time in college as best as possible. 

“Anything that would directly influence a student’s grade, things that might be on their transcript, getting to and from class, and everyday needs like food, groceries, and things of that nature,” Grant said. 

He also recommended food pantries—both on campus and in the greater Boston area—as a resource for students. 

“We also have a food pantry here on campus as well,” Grant said. “We just try to work with students as best as we can with the items that we’re able to purchase things for, and then get them any resources that they might need directly.”

Emerson’s food pantry is located on the second floor of the Walker Building, in office suite 211. Located near the front desk, the food pantry is open from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m., Monday through Friday, with a variety of shelf-stable goods. Sajdyk added that Bon Appetit donates food to pantries accessible to students in nearby neighborhoods.

“We do a lot of donations to Food for Free out of Cambridge, but then there’s also community kitchens in Jamaica Plain,” Sajdyk said. They do a lot of stuff with sending meals out to different people throughout the city. There are some opportunities for students to explore that, and/or donate if they’re leaving for breaks.” 

Grant encouraged students to visit the Office of Student Success and Belonging with questions and concerns.

“Whether it’s [the] Student Assistance Fund, food pantry, or other resources like scholarships and things of that nature or iGrad, we like to direct students to anything that might help,” Grant said. “We’ll be happy to help and direct them in the right direction.”

To apply for the Student Assistance Fund, click here. For more information on Emerson’s food pantry, click here.