Georgetown University started providing students living on campus with weekly grocery allowances after students raised concerns about food insecurity over winter break.
Throughout this semester, the university offered dining options at Leo J. O’Donovan Dining Hall as well as at on-campus dining locations Epicurean and Company and Royal Jacket Deli for the approximately 500 students living on campus.
Meal plans at Georgetown typically include a number of prepaid meal swipes that give students access to select food stations. Students can also pay for meals with debit dollars or Flex dollars, which can be used at any of Georgetown’s dining services, known as Hoya Hospitality locations. Students can deposit debit dollars onto their GOCard account and use those funds to make purchases on and off campus.
While each of the three locations open during the fall semester accommodates student payment from meal plans, Epi and Royal Jacket only accept Flex dollars and debit dollars. However, Leo’s, the only dining hall on campus and the only option that does not require Flex or debit dollars, closed Nov. 22 and will not reopen until the start of the spring semester Jan. 25.
After Leo’s closed, students raised concerns about food insecurity because their meal swipes could not be accepted. Georgetown’s Office of Residential Living announced a plan to provide meal options for on-campus students starting Nov. 23, according to a university spokesperson.
“Funds will be split between flex dollars and debit dollars, with students receiving $105 in flex dollars and $70 in debit dollars each week,” the spokesperson wrote in an email to The Hoya.
Students will automatically receive funds deposited directly in their GOCard accounts for each week they tell the university they are on campus during the break. Students do not need to opt in to the program, according to the email.
Before the university’s announcement, students were unsure if the university would financially assist students, according to Sydney Gilbert (SFS ’23), co-chair of the Georgetown University Student Association Socioeconomic Policy Team.
“We weren’t sure administration would be the best place to go to because they had not really responded well to similar requests in the past,” Gilbert said in a phone interview with The Hoya.
Student organizations like Students Advancing Food Equity, a group that raises awareness about food insecurity at Georgetown, and Swipe Out Hunger, which has previously run a food swipe donation program for students to donate unused meal swipes, have supported students on campus already this semester.
The additional Flex dollars can be used at Royal Jacket and through the Hoyas @ Home grocery delivery service, a program that allows students to order food and other supplies directly to the doors of their dorms. The debit dollars that will be loaded directly onto students’ GOCard accounts can be used at participating businesses in and around the Georgetown neighborhood, including &pizza, Chipotle and CVS Pharmacy.
While the plan does not offer much variety, it will accommodate students living on campus, according to on-campus student Esther Wroth (SFS ’24), a member of SAFE who is living on campus.
“I think the plan is sufficient,” Wroth said in a phone interview with The Hoya. “It has a lot less selection, and it is on the opposite side of campus from where most people live, and people are complaining. But aside from the convenience and selection, it is enough.”
Despite Georgetown’s plan, some students felt the announcement was too late and only offered a temporary resolution to an ongoing problem, according to Gilbert.
“My bigger concern, though, is just making sure this doesn’t all happen again in the spring with spring break, and kind of really addressing the underlying problem rather than just coming up with the last-minute fix, like, three days after the dining halls closed,” Gilbert said.
Georgetown Mutual Aid Network, a student group established this year to help distribute funds to students in need, has also been raising money via social media for on-campus students struggling with food insecurity.
Even with the university’s financial support, students are still struggling to find meals, according to Binqi Chen (NHS ’22), an organizer for Georgetown Mutual Aid. (Full disclosure: Chen formerly served as a design assistant for The Hoya).
“It is amazing they have recognized where they have fallen behind,” Chen said in a phone interview with The Hoya. “We are also here to recognize that the $175 is inconvenient for students — we’re here to supply the rest of what they need to fill their dietary needs.”
Chen hopes this year’s conversations will provide a framework from which Georgetown can continue taking steps to address general food insecurity on campus, she said.
“There has been a learning curve,” Chen said. “But the university is also hearing its students, and that’s great.”
Despite concerns, student leaders advocating for on-campus residents hope the program will continue past this winter, according to Gilbert.
“I’m very glad the administration did come up with this program. And I do want to emphasize it is very good and very necessary, that they did the right thing,” Gilbert said. “I just hope that it continues. They continue to take into account the student concerns and the real experiences of some of the most vulnerable members of the community.”