After months of planning and communication, Molly McFadden, CSOM ‘19, was ready to hold her self-organized Meal Plan Food Drive from 2 to 4 p.m. this afternoon. While the drive was arranged as an option for students looking to use their leftover meal plan money to donate food to nonprofits in the Greater Boston area, it was shut down last minute by BC Dining at $15,000 worth of donations due to issues on the production end.
After posting in the Boston College Class of ‘19 and ‘20 Facebook pages, McFadden received messages from more than 100 students pledging roughly $70,000 worth of food donations to be distributed to different Boston nonprofit organizations, including St. Stephen’s Youth Programs, Commonwealth Tenants Association (CTA), and the Women’s Lunch Place.
“Yesterday morning I had almost $20,000 [worth of food donations] committed,” says McFadden. “Then I came out of my final with 21 new Facebook messages and over $40,000 committed. As of now, we’re already up to $70,000.”
McFadden organized a similar drive last year—also organized on her own initiative—but on a much smaller scale.
“It was very last minute. I made a Facebook post the day before the drive, which was inspired by one of my roommates who still had $1,000 left on her meal plan,” explains McFadden. “Students came by and swiped to buy [pre-arranged] pallets of food—with stuff like chips, fruit, Honest Tea, pre-wrapped sandwiches, and peanut butter—and we took a car to donate the food to [the nonprofits]. We got $5,000 in one day, but I’m confident that we would have had $15,000 if we could have reached the people who had already left campus at that point.”
Seeing the drive’s initial success from last year, McFadden planned and strategized for months in constant communication with BC Dining managers and coordinators from the nonprofits. However, once this year’s pledged donations began to exceed her expectations, McFadden started organizing hot food orders in conjunction with those of non-perishable items.
“I talked to one of the [Corcoran Commons] managers about the fact that Lower dining hall feeds thousands of people a day,” she says. “They told me to give them a 24-hour notice for hot food orders, or 48 hours for bigger orders. And at that point, we were ordering it a week out.”
As pledged donations kept rolling in and McFadden coordinated more orders with nonprofits like St. Stephen’s, she stayed in constant contact with BC Dining managers to keep them updated with the process. However, the day before the long-planned Meal Plan Food Drive was set to take place, she stopped getting responses to confirm the new orders.
Then, this morning, nearly an hour before the drive’s scheduled start time, McFadden was alerted by the same manager that there wasn’t enough product in stock to fulfill the scheduled orders.
“She told me that they [BC Dining] could do the four orders that they had already processed, but couldn’t fill the other orders,” says McFadden. “But that only covered about $14,000 of the $50,000 we had pledged at that point, so I asked [them] what the best way for us to spend the rest of this pledged money would be.”
McFadden was directed instead to using the donations from drop-in students to clear out the shelves of non-perishables, desserts, and other food items, meanwhile Facebook messaging the previously-arranged 100+ students to tell them not to come.
“All of a sudden, one of the workers started getting really upset that we were taking all of these bags of chips, telling me that we had to leave some for the other students, so she brought the other manager over to tell me that we couldn’t buy all the food out,” says McFadden. “I had come in previously to discuss this, but I recognized that there must be a bigger institutional issue. These students should have a right to spend their money on the food that’s in the dining hall.”
With students still sending messages willing to pledge hundreds and thousands of their leftover meal plan dollars, McFadden hopes to bring campus awareness to this larger Boston College issue.
“They don’t even have enough product on campus for students who want to spend their money, to spend their money on,” says McFadden. “We did reach over $15,000 today, which was awesome, and that was my main goal at the beginning. But my biggest takeaway now is that there’s an institutional issue. And they could potentially have a huge legal issue on their hands by not giving students the option to spend all the money that they have.”
While she recognizes that BC Dining doesn’t make a profit, she also recognizes that they budget assuming that a certain amount will go unspent at the end of the year.
“They make their 100% profit margin from this unspent money,” McFadden explains. “So they have no real motivation to help students spend their extra money and distribute the food that we have access to with that money.”
One of her primary motivations for pursuing this issue is the fact that Boston, a city with college dining halls aplenty, still suffers from food insecurity—despite the fact that these dining halls certainly have no shortage of students willing to donate food at the end of the year.
“It falls on finals week, so I don’t think people really question it because they have too much on their hands,” says McFadden. “There’s a lot of good that people could do with that extra money if they’re given an outlet to do so, and while I think BC does a really great job encouraging their ‘men and women for others’ mentality, they have room to improve in this arena.”
She notes that even Arrupe point drives are capped at $100 per donation, and that UGBC’s Every Bite Counts initiative sees fewer donations because it isn’t held as close to the end of the year, when students are more likely to donate more as they have a better sense of their remaining meal plan balance.
“I just hope that it will catch on—that people will buy food and donate it—and I’ve been encouraging people to donate on their own, but the reality is that it’s hard to do that and make it happen logistically,” says McFadden. “I’m just surprised that this hasn’t been a huge issue in the past. It’s not a dining issue, it’s an institutional issue.”
In moving forward, McFadden is working to draft more realistic proposals that would make this food donation option a reality for students wishing to make better use of their remaining meal plan money. Until then, she hopes that interested students and organizations looking to get involved reach out to her at firstname.lastname@example.org.
“I want to say thanks to all the people who were able to help us donate $15,000, as well as all the other people who reached out to help or give words of encouragement,” says McFadden. “And thanks to the dining hall for what they did to help us reach that $15,000 mark.”
As far as future efforts go, McFadden surely shows no signs of slowing down: “BC Dining has a great program with awesome worker benefits, but I think this is still questionable. And I think we’re just seeing the tip of the iceberg.”