Students frustrated with Sodexho’s Passover meal plans

Abbie VanSickle

With Passover approaching, tradition and change have clashed, leaving many Jewish students dissatisfied with Northwestern Food Services.

For several years, the office that handles Sodexho Marriott Food Services for NU has allowed students on traditional meal plans to transfer meals to the Fiedler Hillel Center during Passover.

NU provides this option as a courtesy to students because Sodexho Marriott doesn’t allow meal transfers, said Dana Levit, assistant director of NU Food Services Operations. She said NU, which covers the cost of the meal transfers, loses money on the deal.

But more and more students are turning to the Flex Plan, an alternative to the traditional meal plan, and students on the Flex Plan have to pay for Passover meals at Hillel. Levit said NU does not allow students on the Flex Plan to transfer meals “because students on the Flex Plan can stock meals. They don’t lose money.”

But Eli Margulies, a Music freshman, said she was shocked when she found out she could not transfer her meals to Hillel.

“What annoys me is that I didn’t know about this rule ahead of time,” she said. “I’m going to be wasting about $200.”

But Margulies, like many other students, didn’t complain to Levit about the change.

Hannah Schwartz, a Weinberg freshman, said students have not brought their concerns to Levit or Sodexho Marriot because Hillel has told them to contact the Undergraduate Housing Office, where they have received few answers to their concerns.

Schwartz said she had spoken with employees at the housing office, who told her there was nothing she could do to change the policy.

“No one has contacted anyone else because when we’ve gone (to the housing office), we’ve been given the runaround,” Schwartz said.

Rachel Spiro, Hillel’s program director, said she had received many complaints from students but is happy that NU has been able to help some students.

“First, (students) started yelling at us about (the policy),” she said. “However, we have a partnership with the university. We’re glad that (the current plan) helps some people because the meals can get pretty expensive.

“But it’s unfortunate that some people who want to celebrate the holiday are being turned away. However, it’s not a Hillel-university complaint. It’s more of a student-university complaint.”

Spiro said she thinks students feel they are being cheated by the university.

“They just want someone to listen to them,” she said.

But only one student has complained to Levit, and she said she didn’t know if it went any further than that. Hillel hasn’t contacted her, she said.

Upon hearing of the widespread dissatisfaction, Levit immediately addressed one of the students’ requests. Beginning Saturday, the dining halls will offer pre-packaged plastic silverware and paper plates for students concerned about leavened food products touching silverware.

Levit said that she is “totally open to anything” the students would like to propose, and that NU has arranged for Sodexho Marriot to offer options for Jewish students in the past.

“What the university has done (in the past) is to arrange a number of kosher items for students,” Levit said.

But McCormick sophomore Josh Anon said that Sodexho Marriot’s efforts to accommodate Jewish students during Passover always have been inadequate.

“Last year they just stuck out a box of matzoh and said, ‘Have fun,'” he said.