Photo Series: On-campus meal tents provide food for students amidst shelter in place order


Photo taken by Sara Hafften.

Sara Hafften, Photojournalist

For multiple weeks, students sheltering in place on the University of Wisconsin-La Crosse campus have received meals from tents located outside residence halls. It has been an adjustment for students to acquire meals from tents instead of acquiring meals from the Whitney Center. Dining Center Services employees have found a similar difficulty in the adjustment. 

Plans to provide meals for both students in quarantine and students in isolation were made in the summer prior to the fall 2020 semester by the University Centers, Chartwells, and Residence Life staff members.  During the first week of the semester, reports of students who tested positive for COVID-19 traced back to the main dining room at Whitney Center. This resulted in routine disinfecting of surfaces and limited seating within the building. 

On Sept. 10, Coate Hall received a “shelter in place” order to stop the surge in cases. This eventually led to a campus-wide lockdown of residence halls. Director of University Centers Larry Ringgenberg said, “When we were informed that Coate Hall needed to be sheltered in place, we decided, in consultation with facilities staff, Student Health Center staff, Residence Life staff, and university leadership, that it would be safer to rent a tent and feed people outside. This decision evolved as we added a second tent between Laux Hall and Sanford Hall, during the sheltering in place time period,” said Ringgenberg. 

According to the district manager of Chartwells Dining Services, Steven Martens, Chartwells employees underwent a training process to learn how to prepare food during the COVID-19 pandemic. “The training for all our associates began about two weeks before the start of the semester. We had training sessions that were held in small groups of 10 to 15 associates.” In these training sessions, the safety of both students and staff was held in high regard. Some topics covered were: daily pre-shift health screeningsproper usage of masks and gloves, correct handwashing procedures, sanitation procedures, and the purpose and positioning of plexiglass.

This semester, Dining Center Services also faced the challenge of a lack of new employees within their workforce. This semester was particularly challenging in attracting new hires due to an increase of students attending class virtually, the uncertainty of class schedules, and fear of the unknown for many students. Martens said hiring part-time and student associates takes about three to four weeks to recruit and process applications. Just as his team was beginning the process, students went into the two-week shelter in place.  

Despite this challenge, Dining Center Services is still hiring. “I would encourage anyone looking for some additional income to check us out on Handshake.  We offer a great starting wage, you don’t need a car, we provide a meal when you work, we schedule around your schedule and we provide a free meal when you do work. We also provide a hundred dollar Chartwells Bucks Bonus upon successfully working your scheduled shifts each semester,” said Martens.

After the final decision on the meal tents was made, employees had to revise their methods of meal distribution. Martens complimented his team on their professionalism and their ability to shift quickly to address the many details that encompassed providing service in the tents. “These tasks included writing menus, addressing special diets, creating equipment lists, moving equipment and products, writing schedules, sourcing a variety of snacks along with updating social media and Dine On Campus to communicate this change,” he said.

On Oct. 2, Ringgenberg sent out an email to university students detailing the most recent update on the meal tents. “On Oct. 2, the tent behind Sanford and in front of Reuter Hall will be moved near Wentz Hall. We ask that students who have been isolated or quarantined in Wentz Hall or other residence halls pick up their food at this location. These students should not use other dining locations at this time. The Coate Hall tent will continue to serve all other students with a dining plan,” said Ringgenberg. Within the email, it also stated that Sonos is currently open for transfer meals and The Cellar will open for transfer meals next week.  

Ringgenberg admitted that the current meal tents are not a sustainable model and that his team plans to return to Whitney Center when it is safe to do so. 

For questions and concerns regarding dining, email [email protected] or [email protected] For more updates on dining services, locations, and hours, see below.

Student Union Dining.

Whitney Center & Tents Dining.

Menus & Locations.