What to Do with Your Left Over Meal Plan Money

With the end of the quarter fast approaching, many students are left with large amounts of unspent meal plan money and a quickly diminishing window of time to spend it all. There are a limited number of ways students can get rid of this money, but one way that students can both get rid of excess meal plan money and contribute to the community is by donating their leftover meal plan money.

Since January of 2019, Chartwells has partnered with the Office of Multicultural Affairs (OMA) to run a program that allows students to donate up to $100 out of their meal plan to OMA where it is distributed to students in need.

For students that want to donate to the program, donations started on Dec. 2 and will continue until the end of the quarter. To donate, students simply have to talk to the cashier at any Chartwells location and request that a donation be made to the OMA food insecurity program.

Mariela Galvan, the graduate program coordinator for food security at OMA, helps to run this program as well as OMA’s Food Pantry. While it is still new, according to Galvan more than 140 students are currently using the meal card plan through OMA. While he says it can help these students, it is by no means a permanent solution.

“It’s not sustainable for us [to be] people’s primary source of food; we are just supposed to be supplementary.” Galvan said. “It can be difficult if there are no other resources for people in the community. It should be an institutional solution, the whole campus should come together to do something, either to decrease prices, to stock the pantry better, or get community meals.”

According to Galvan, many students who utilize the programs rely on it as a primary source of food. He said cards loaded with $100 sometimes only last a few days for students.

“It’s hard. It’s hard for them to stretch out that meal plan that they have…… [For] some people, depending on their background, this is all that they have to live off of, so making that last for weeks at a time can be near impossible,” Galvan said.

Currently, the maximum a student can donate from their own meal plan is capped at $100. However, according to Terry Conaty, the resident district manager for Chartwells, this is set by Seattle U and is something that they would have to further duscuss to change.

“Students are donating money with the best of intentions, but at the same time, there needs to be some sort of balance so that they are not running out of money,” Conaty said. “It’s worth exploring with the university that if students want to donate more at the very end of the quarter, its a conversation we can have with the school.”

According to Chartwells’ website, up to 43% of college students face some form of food insecurity.

Brie Bordner, the marketing manager for Chartwells, said that they helped create this food donation program with OMA because it is part of their company’s goals to be a helpful member of the community rather than a “passive” company providing food.

That said, Galvan said that these programs should be paired with structural change, rather than simply providing reparative solutions.

Chartwells also has a program where they donate food to the community, with Redhawk Dining partnering with Operation Sack Lunch, to help donate edible food to community partners that help feed those in need.

“It should be an institutional solution. The whole campus should come together to do something, either to decrease prices, to stock the pantry better, or get community meals.”

For students that are looking to get more involved in helping stop food insecurity, they can donate food directly to the OMA food pantry and students can get involved with the community through the Center for Community Engagement, which offers programs for students to help give back.

Logan may be reached at [email protected]