Biochemistry freshman Claire Meeds was enjoying a sunny day at Avila Beach in early January with a group of friends when the music stopped as she received an incoming phone call from an area code 805 number.
“You’ve tested positive for COVID-19,” the woman on the phone said.
Meeds said she went into panic mode.
“I almost didn’t believe her at first,” Meeds said.
She was asymptomatic, with no reason to believe she had been exposed to COVID-19.
Feeling anxious and overwhelmed, Meeds rushed back to campus and packed up all of her stuff in preparation to move to the isolation dorms. There was just one other thing she knew she’d better do; stuff her bags full of as many snacks as could fit.
With the return of students to Cal Poly’s campus this past fall, Campus Dining launched a new dining system to support students who must isolate for testing positive for COVID-19.
Each afternoon during fall quarter, Campus Dining provided students in isolation with a lunch, a heat-and-eat meal for dinner and a cold breakfast for the next day. Students received a standard breakfast consisting of a pastry, Greek yogurt, whole fruit and juice, but had little variety for their lunch and dinner options.
Meeds, along with other students, was less than satisfied with Campus Dining’s isolation meal offerings.
“I get it, [Campus Dining] tried their best, but it was definitely hard at times,” Meeds said. “The meals were not very appetizing, they didn’t look fresh or they were expiring the next day.”
She said she also was suspicious of eating the food because she was not sure how long it had been sitting out for.
Meeds said that there were some days that Campus Dining forgot to deliver her meals, so she’d have to Doordash meals to her apartment.
“It was really frustrating because I had already paid for those meals, and then I’d spend even more money ordering through Doordash,” Meeds said. “Thank goodness I had a lot of snacks though, because I relied on those everyday.”
After receiving feedback from students, Campus Dining expanded their menu offerings for winter quarter.
According to Campus Dining executive chef Rensford Abrigo, they recently implemented a new 14-day meal rotation, so for students who are in isolation for a full two weeks, they will not have the same meal twice.
“It was important for us to create meals that were both enjoyable and nutritionally balanced and that took into consideration the feedback from the students,” he said.
Microbiology freshman Mylene Vachon said she also had a negative experience with Campus Dining while she was isolating due to testing positive for COVID-19.
“Overall, the benefits of having Campus Dining’s isolation meals were canceled out by its faults,” Vachon said. “It was amazing having food and water delivered to my door daily, but it felt like the only food being delivered to me was rejected food that nobody was willing to buy from Vista Grande.”
Vachon described the meals she received as “suspicious” and “far from appealing,” and said that the few meals she did decide to eat left her feeling nauseous. Like Meeds, Vachon said she was frustrated with paying out-of-pocket to Doordash other meals.
However, Vachon said that Campus Dining did a great job delivering her meals on time and providing good snacks each day.
“The snacks they delivered were amazing,” Vachon said. “They did a great job balancing sweets and healthy snacks in the food deliveries.”
Journalism freshman Ashley Oakes said that her experience with Campus Dining during her quarantine was mediocre.
“Campus Dining’s isolation meals were fine,” Oakes said. “I would say about half the meals they gave us looked edible. I personally liked the pasta dishes, the snacks they gave us and breakfast options. Dinner was not very good and I usually wouldn’t even bother ordering it.”
Oakes said that given the circumstances, she thinks that Campus Dining did a “pretty good job,” but that there were definitely things Campus Dining could improve.
“I wish there was an option to request less food, because I always felt like I was wasting my food,” Oakes said. “I also wish I could’ve customized my meals more and had more of a say in what I would receive.”
According to Cal Poly Corporation communications specialist Aaron Lambert, the Campus Dining isolation meal service is still a work-in-progress, and they are constantly taking feedback to improve.
“We strive to make students feel as comfortable as possible through all of this,” Cal Poly Corporation communications specialist Aaron Lambert said. “Anything we can do to try to make their lives a little easier.”
The cost for the isolation meals come out of each student’s meal plan. However, Lambert said that there is an option to pay out-of-pocket for those who would like to conserve their dining plan funds or for those who are not on a meal plan.
According to University Catering operations manager Cynthia Stocker, students unable to afford the meals receive assistance from the Cal Poly Cares program.
Stocker said that Campus Dining serves anywhere from as little as 15 meals a day to as many as 300 meals a day, depending on the number of students in isolation at a given time. Students also have the ability to opt out of receiving meals if they wish.
The number of students Campus Dining has served throughout winter quarter decreased compared to fall quarter, according to Stocker.
Campus Dining said they have strived to best serve the needs of students in isolation, but many have been critical of Campus Dining’s isolation services.
“Food is a very personal thing for everybody,” Lambert said. “Some people are very appreciative of these meals, and others can be harder to please. So we are constantly taking feedback so we can adapt and cater to the needs of the students.”