SAN LUIS OBISPO, CA — As a limited number of students returned to campus for the start of fall quarter in San Luis Obispo last September, the team at Campus Dining moved quickly to support any students in isolation or quarantine on campus.

The Campus Dining team started planning for this possibility last summer, as Cal Poly President Jeffrey D. Armstrong announced that students must provide proof of a negative COVID-19 test prior to returning to campus. Once back on campus, the university launched an ongoing testing program to more quickly identify cases.

As students began to test regularly and follow isolation and quarantine orders, Campus Dining joined its university partners in supporting students.

“The university did so much to create as safe an environment as possible, but we knew that positive tests would come, so we planned and prepared,” Campus Dining Assistant Director Russell Monteath said.

In a non-pandemic year Monteath is typically in charge of managing three core Campus Dining units as well as University Catering. With all university events canceled or operating virtual due to the pandemic, University Catering quickly adapted to serve all on-campus students in isolation and quarantine.

It was early summer when Monteath began meeting with Campus Dining leadership and University Catering Operations Manager Cynthia Stocker to discuss how best to serve and support students, all first years, who would be required to stay in their room or apartment while under isolation or quarantine orders.

University Catering Chef Jeremy Jones immediately began designing a menu that would offer nourishing meals and comfort during a stressful time.

“I know from experience that turning in homework is stressful enough in a normal year, and these students are away from their families and supporters for the first time, in isolation after testing positive, and still responsible for classwork,” Jones said. “We just tried to give them what they needed and something fun to make them more comfortable.”

Jones has been supported throughout this ongoing effort by Campus Market Sous Chef Beto Gonzalez and Mustang Station Lead Cook Maria Alvarez.

Every day students have been delivered lunch, a heat-and-eat meal for dinner and a breakfast for the next day. These meals are delivered daily by Monteath, Stocker and catering Service Supervisor Morgan Hubbard. At the height of fall quarter, the three delivered nearly 130 meals each day. Three weeks into winter quarter they have once again hit that daily number.

“Fall was nonstop, all weekends, all hours but you do what you’ve got to do to make sure everyone is fed and healthy,” Stocker said.

Student feedback has been gathered throughout fall quarter and into winter, in order to adapt menus and improve the overall process.  

For breakfast, students receive a breakfast pastry, Greek yogurt, whole fruit, and juice. Lunch could include a Waldorf chicken wrap, a Japanese Udon noodle chicken salad or a vegan black bean and corn Caesar salad with guacamole. Dinner options range from a barbacoa burrito bowl to beef stroganoff with rice pilaf and seasonal veggies or a vegan Moroccan chickpeas with tahini sauce, basmati rice and roasted cauliflower.

“On top of the meals, they got multiple bags of chips, trail mix, or whatever we could think would make them more comfortable,” Stocker said.

If students do not feel up to a full menu, they could order a “Bland Diet” prepared with broth, soup, crackers, toast and more.

“We want to make sure that, with everything else students have to worry about, the when’s, where’s, and how’s of their next meal shouldn’t be one of them,” Jones said. “We will continue to do everything in our power to make sure they are treated to the same quality of food, in or out of quarantine, as every other student eating on campus.”

To streamline the ordering process Monteath and Stocker worked with Marketing Manager Sarah Gerkins and Front End Developer Matt Nelson to create a completely digital ordering system that allowed students to customize orders with preference and dietary considerations including vegan and vegetarian.

“It has been a significant effort to make this happen, but everyone at Campus Dining is committed to supporting students and ensuring their health and safety,” Monteath said.