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Sacrifices made to keep dining halls open during storm

By COLE CAVISTON, Staff Writer

As Juno blanketed Durham on Tuesday, Dining Services staff members braved the blizzard to deliver hot food to hungry mouths.

Holloway Commons and Philbrook dining halls were open from 9 a.m to 7 p.m., but Stillings remained closed all day, a decision that Director of Dining Jon Plodzik said was due to the lack of commuters to campus. Philbrook Café and Wildcatessen remained open from 11 a.m. until 11 p.m.

Deborah Scanlon, the area manager for Holloway Commons, and other staff members faced a rush of students coming into the dining hall around noon, most of whom were coming in for breakfast.

“We are running short-staffed right now because the weather is horrendous out here,” Scanlon said. “We came in early this morning, some people stayed overnight, and we have mattresses downstairs for those who are staying over.”

Cameron Johnson/Staff
Cameron Johnson/STAFF
UNH Dining Services employee Charlene Hill works during the snow storm. Many of the dining services employees who worked during the snowstorm stayed the night at the university in order to be able to cook for students.

Gigi McNally, an employee at Holloway Commons for 16 years, was one of those employees who stayed overnight before. She spent the night at the Holiday Express in Durham, the first time she has had to stay overnight close to her workplace.

“A lot of us stayed over and a lot of us did not. I ended up staying at the Holiday Express, so my supervisors invited me to stay with them,” McNally said. “It was very comfortable, so that was very good.”

Plodzik had been following weather reports on Juno since Sunday. Plans for the curtailed hours for dining halls on campus were finalized on Monday, including closing Stillings due to lack of service for commuters.

“Yesterday, we lined up staff from Stillings Hall that are working over here at Holloway and Philbrook to fill voids for folks that couldn’t make it in,” Plodzik said. “It kind of helps us maintain two properties better staffed than three that are skippy staffed.”

One of the most pressing concerns for management was closing both Holloway Commons and Philbrook Hall by 7 p.m. to ensure staff members planning to go home could leave safely.

“We have contingency plans for just about every situation,” Plodzik said. “So far, staffing has been great, students have been coming in, and that’s been the biggest part of today, making sure we have enough bodies to keep serving.”

Plodzik described most employees as having planned ahead, either carpooling into work or staying overnight nearby. Plodzik himself drove several employees to work that morning, both from around and off campus and planned to drive over to Dover to pick four more people up around 2 p.m.

“Last night I would say we had about a dozen stay over,” Plodzik said. “Close to 20 or so that will stay the night tonight.”

Cameron Johnson/STAFF Cutline...Cutline...Cutline
Cameron Johnson/STAFF

McNally was one of those employees who waited for the pickup from Plodzik and had just begun work at Holloway around noon.

“It looks like it’s going to be pretty busy, but we’ll get out early tonight so that will be good,” McNally said. “I’ll be staying here at Holloway in the Piscataqua Room.”

Over at Philbrook Hall, the dining center’s operations were dependent on the number of employees who could come into work.

Brandon Crosby, manager of Philbrook Hall, said that most of the staff managed to come in or stay locally and that the management stayed at the Holiday Inn.

“A lot of our students came in and invited any students that worked here if they wanted to come in today, Crosby said. “We were paying a little extra today, so they could make their way in.”

Like in Holloway Commons, according to Crosby, some employees would stay overnight at Philbrook.

“Some folks have decided that they want to spend the night here,” Crosby said. “Six or seven are going to snuggle right up in the booths. We’ve brought some air mattresses and stuff like that.”

Kevin Walsh, a sophomore who works at Philbrook, said the dining hall functioned as it normally would, despite the extreme weather conditions.

“Working here today has been pretty regular actually,” Walsh said. “There’s less of a rush on lunch and dinner times. Everyone’s on their own schedule, so it makes it a lot more manageable.”

Walsh said that students usually help out when weather conditions like blizzards impact travel, which particularly affects the full-time staff.

“It’s kind of calming to know that on a day such as today, where the blizzard conditions are so bad, that we can still get out the food the same way we normally do,” Walsh said.

Dining Services has also been working with the Disability Service for Students to allow handicapped students entry into dining halls in addition to sending food to the police, ambulance drivers and facility workers and setting up community meal plans to provide food and shelter for those without power.

One student told his mother about what was being done for the workers, prompting her to call Dining Services to voice her appreciation.

“She was so impressed that we would go to that care and concern that she wanted to follow up and thank us,” Scanlon said. “It was really very nice. We have a tremendous staff that show the pride and the passion they have in the UNH students.”

Plodzik shared his appreciation for the staff as well.

“We have such a dedicated group of associates here. Folks trucked in as far as Maine to make sure they could provide service,” Plodzik said. “We’ve been blessed with a very dedicated team throughout all of our operations.”

Follow Cole Caviston on twitter at @Wall_Cav4

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