KINGSTON, R.I. — April 20, 2020 — As University of Rhode Island Dining Services workers loaded 500 individually wrapped meals into a refrigerated truck last Wednesday morning, others were already hard at work preparing Thursday’s meal–shepherd’s pie with spinach, carrots and rolls.
Wednesday’s meal of fried chicken, beans and macaroni and cheese, went to Cumberland’s Senior Center, and Thursday morning, dining services workers were off to East Providence with the shepherd’s pie meal. Each individual meal was fully cooked and prepared and only needed to be reheated.
It’s all part of an effort involving the University, Rhode Island’s Office of Healthy Aging and the state’s senior centers. Older Rhode Islanders staying home need help with nutrition; senior centers, which are no longer providing communal meals to their patrons at their centers, needed a way to get meals to them; and URI Dining Services has plenty of food to prepare the meals, since most of its nearly 6,000 resident students did not return to campus after spring break when the University ceased in-person instruction and most in-person services.
John Fuscaldo, a motor equipment operator for URI Dining Services, was at the Hope Commons loading dock Tuesday morning, rolling in carts of food from Hope’s Mainfare dining room, into a truck. He was eager to hit the road as the driver.
“It’s great that we are reaching out to the community and that we can help out,” Fuscaldo said.
Gwendolyn “Wendy” Pugh, food service supervisor, helped load the truck, too, and would ride to Cumberland with Fuscaldo.
“In this crazy time, I am glad we can do something like this. It feels good because people are struggling.” Pugh said. “We are all trying to contribute.”
Keith Mancini, a principal cook, was constantly on the move as he directed his team.
“We have great resources and great people here at URI. Everybody is so into this and I am very proud of what we are doing.”
Before the meals started rolling out the door this week, the state connected with Kathy Collins, URI vice president for Student Affairs and Anne Marie Coleman, assistant vice president for Human Resource Administration, to find out if URI could help. Collins and Coleman then looked to Pierre St-Germain, URI’s director of Dining Services.
“I am thankful for the team in URI Dining and their desire to make a difference across campus and across Rhode Island,” Collins said. “Our Dining staff is excited to help those in need during this difficult time.
“Our agency continues to be laser focused on supporting older adults, caregivers and adults with disabilities,” said Office of Healthy Aging Director Rosamaria Amoros Jones. “Across the state, senior centers are serving as hubs for their community, providing valuable services to people in need and delivering thousands of meals daily. Through this partnership with URI, we’ve increased the number of nutritious meals distributed by these centers, helping to ensure older adults, who are at higher risk for severe illness, have the supports they need to stay healthy and safe at home during this time of physical distancing. We are grateful to URI for their partnership.”
“There has been a big spike in the need for meals that are normally provided by senior centers,” St-Germain said. “The state asked how many meals we could produce and I replied that we could definitely package 500, so that’s what we’re doing Monday through Friday, delivering to senior centers from Cumberland to Westerly.”
St-Germain said this is another way the University is serving the state during the pandemic. He said that the University orders most of its food at the beginning of each semester, so when the students did not return at the end of March, it made sense to draw on this remaining supply and the expertise of the Dining Services team, which knows how to create nutritious and tasty meals for thousands of students each day.
“Many staff work through the end of the academic year in May, and others remain throughout the summer, and so this is a way to sustain our workforce while at the same time doing something altruistic for some of the most vulnerable people in Rhode Island, the elderly and immuno-compromised.”
St-Germain said the University is scheduled to provide assistance until June 1.
Because of state purchasing practices, URI Dining Services buys its food in bulk and a significant portion is frozen. All of it would have been consumed by students here until the end of the semester, incoming first-year students during orientation in June, and students normally here for summer session. Without those large groups, URI was interested in making sure it did not go to waste and was used in a timely manner.
“We work hard to ensure that our students enjoy the highest quality product, and now that food is going to the elderly food pantries around the state,” St-Germain said.
Mask makers, too
In another area of the Mainfare dining facility, a group of cooks helpers made masks for University employees in their own department and beyond. The crew that day included Diana Bibeault, Debbie Castovillari, Erin Hagopian and Jennifer Souza. Some sewed while others ironed to make the fabric easier to hem.
Bibeault, who is normally assigned to Butterfield Dining Hall, sat at a sewing machine making double-sided, colorful masks. In her spare time, she is a quilter.
“I have donated all the fabric I normally use in my quilts to this effort,” Bibeault said. “This is for the greater good. The first batch of material was donated by dining managers, but now we are using my supply. We want to keep our co-workers safe and those in other departments at URI. Each employee gets two so they can launder one while they wear the other.”
Souza said the project is fun and rewarding, “But we do miss seeing the kids every day. Interacting with them is the best. We look forward to having them back.”
Please see two links for B-roll of URI Dining Services staff members preparing meals for Rhode Island senior centers and making masks for dining workers and other essential URI personnel.