OP-EDS

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May 13, 2011

Fourth Meal philanthropy

Late-night dining could expand past student body and involve the less fortunate

The recent announcements that Clarke’s Diner will open at Harper Court and that a new “Fourth Meal” program will be set up in the South Campus dining hall mean that in short time students should be surfeited by late-night dining options. These additional offerings, as the Maroon Editorial Board succinctly put it, “tackle one of the largest shortcomings of campus life.” The shortcoming is not, of course, a lack of food, but a lack of food when students want it.

If the demand for late-night dining services exists, and, in the abstract, it certainly seems to, then the University should, as it has, accommodate students as much as possible. And while the current late-night program at Hutch has experienced abysmal attendance, attracting, according to the Maroon, only one-fourth the number of students it needs to remain economically viable, the switch in location from Hutch to South Campus and the entrance of a legitimate diner with a larger variety of offerings may augur an explosion of, if not gourmets, then gourmands around campus.

However, if the late-night dining service at South Campus fails to produce the popularity many hope for, the University might consider distributing its gastronomic resources to struggling local families. As a way both to proactively engage the greater community south of campus, as well as to simply offer assistance to those most in need, the University could open its dining hall doors to underprivileged families.

Because the current proposals for South Campus allow students to use meal swipes, overhead food and labor expenses would be accounted for at the beginning of each quarter. If the late-night dining program proves unpopular, students will in all likelihood not recoup their costs, but the University wouldn't lose money.

Offering unconsumed meals that are already paid for to individuals in need of them could potentially facilitate stronger community ties by marking the University as a place of accommodation and aid for local residents, and not simply as a place of indifference.

Too often, the areas south of Hyde Park are seen only abstractly, our perceptions informed by security emails, roving police cars, and racial distinctions. Instead, local families might be invited to sit amongst students and enjoy a simple chat while dining. If this proves unfeasible, offering free food during hours in which the halls are normally closed might quell concerns that the dining hall is not a safe space exclusively for students. In addition, students could be encouraged to donate unused meal swipes as late-night dining hours are shifted to other times when local residents might be accommodated.

According to the US Census Data from 2000 (data by zip code from 2010 is not yet available online), 19.2 percent of households in the 60637 zip code are comprised of a single mother with a child under eighteen. In addition, 33.6 percent of families in 2000, a period of relatively profound economic stability, earned less than $15,000 a year. There are individuals undoubtedly in need of assistance, and a place as rich and resourceful as the University should actively help its less fortunate neighbors.

This may seem a utopian idea but it doesn’t have to be. Obviously, this proposition would need to be worked out by administrators with the expertise and drive to promote and actuate a reasonable plan. Yet, either way, if students end up spurning their fourth meal of the day, we could do worse than offer it to someone who has enjoyed far less.

Nick Foretek is a fourth-year in the College majoring in English.

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