Unused dining dollars donation option for NMU Food Pantry

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Photo courtesy of Haley Rhoades DINING DONATION—A new option for students who are under a meal plan is to donate their unused dining dollars to NMU’s Food Pantry. The option was implemented in December of 2020 with the idea stemming from Jacob McCann, a student who wanted to give his unused dining dollars to a good cause.

Joad Blaauw-Hara

Starting in December of 2020, the NMU Food Pantry introduced a new option for students who had excess dining dollars at the end of the semester. Students who still had leftover dining dollars were offered a chance to donate their unused dollars to the pantry where they were used to support students in need. NMU student and inventor of the new program, Jacob McCann, spoke about what inspired him to think of it.

“Some students, especially now, simply can’t afford the more expensive meal plans that come with unlimited meals per week, or have the money to get the food from the store themselves,” McCann said. “I just didn’t want the [excess] money to go to waste.”

Paul Schoonveld, dining director at NMU, elaborated on the technicalities of the program’s function. 

“Dining dollars carry over from fall semester to winter semester but are forfeited at the end of the academic year. This past December, we offered the first ‘donation’ opportunity to students in collaboration with the NMU Day of Giving and the NMU Food Pantry. We wanted to meet students where they were, and make it as convenient as possible by setting up an NMU Food Pantry location on the GET Mobile app,” Schoonveld said. “Meal plan holders had the opportunity to donate a portion of their dollars using the GET app. We then used those proceeds to purchase food items directly from our primary convenience distributor, H.T. Hackney.”

While donating unused dining dollars to the pantry is new for the NMU Food Pantry, Schoonveld said that this new option is still being looked at for the future.

“We are exploring an annual mid-year donation option,” Schoonveld said. “This is based on the fact that supplies are purchased using those donated dollars, and the bulk of students are served during the academic year rather than the summer months.”

Hannah Jaworski, an intern at the pantry, talked about how the new program benefited the pantry as a whole.

“The contributions from NMU students are directly impacting our ability to provide resources to the Northern community. We have been able to increase our stock of shelf staples, as well as new items that shoppers don’t usually have access to through the pantry,” Jaworski said. “This program allowed us to expand the quality and range of items that we offer and that has been exciting for us and our shoppers.”

With the positive response and initial success of the dining dollars program, Jaworski was enthused by how well the program was doing.

“This program started out as a pilot for attempting to increase our outreach and the community’s general awareness of the NMU Food Pantry. For us, the response quickly exceeded our expectations and we couldn’t be more enthused about the outcome,” Jaworski said. “With the partnerships and structure in place, we hope it is something that can be carried on in the future. For our [SLFP] interns, we hope that we’ve contributed to a solid foundation for future volunteers to build on.”

For more information on the NMU Food Pantry and NMU Dining, visit the pantry’s website and the dining website.