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NMU Students’ Unused Dining Dollars Benefit Food Pantry March 4, 2021

The Northern Michigan University Food Pantry received a large shipment of non-perishable food and other items Wednesday, made possible by nearly 130 meal plan students who generously shared $5,400 of their remaining Dining Dollars at the end of the fall semester.

The pantry was able to benefit from the buying power of NMU Dining Services after the two entities collaborated on an NMU Day of Giving initiative in early December.

“It’s wonderful that so many currently enrolled students were able to make a difference,” said Haley Rhoades of the Dean of Students Office, who oversees the pantry’s operation. “The effort raised resources to buy needed products, but it also raised awareness of the pantry, which residence hall students don’t need now, but may in the future when they’re living off campus. And by working through Dining Services’ vendor, we were able to procure different items than we would normally stock at the pantry.”

Meal plan students received an email notifying them of the option to share Dining Dollars, for a value of their choice, through the GET Mobile app they already use for campus dining operations. Promotional materials were also posted on campus and on various social media platforms.

“It’s a win-win for everyone,” said Paul Schoonveld, director of Dining Services. “Typically there are efforts on campus to collect canned goods or help the pantry with donations to buy products. But knowing the Day of Giving fell when students had already gone home for the semester break, we wanted to meet them where they were, so to speak, to make it easy and convenient.

“Through our vendor H.T. Hackney, we came up with a shopping spreadsheet of more than 1,000 items the pantry could choose from and used our purchasing power to get the best price. Most of the items were delivered this week; the final amount will be used to buy specialty items for students with special dietary needs.”

The idea took root last April, when social work major Jacob McCann expressed an interest in using his leftover Dining Dollars to purchase food and donate it to the pantry.

“I knew I wouldn’t be able to use all the Dining Dollars I had before the year was over,” said McCann in a news story at the time. “I knew they wouldn’t carry over to next year, either. I wanted to do something with the money instead of wasting it, so I got in contact with the food pantry and asked if I could use it to help them.”

While last fall’s collaboration expanded the initiative to coincide with NMU Giving Day, Rhoades said the result far exceeded expectations.

“We were expecting students to share about $2,000,” she said. “It was fun because I received a notification every time students shared their Dining Dollars, and my phone started lighting up more than I expected. The students really impressed us with their generosity.”

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