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MIT Housing System and Division of Student Life Team Up to Support Local Eateries

Central Square, Cambridge

March 17, 2021

Program defrays the cost of ordering from local restaurants for COVID-safe residence gatherings

The COVID-19 pandemic has hit restaurants hard, from legendary eateries to neighborhood pizzerias. In September, the Massachusetts Restaurant Association reported that about 20% of the state's restaurants would close permanently as a result of the pandemic.

“Going to restaurants with students and colleagues on Mass Ave and in Kendall Square is a big part of normal life at MIT,” said Department of Nuclear Science and Engineering Professor Michael Short, “and many of these restaurants are run by families, neighbors, and friends.” So he was deeply disappointed to learn in December 2020 that his favorite restaurant would close soon if business conditions didn’t improve. Subsequently, Professor Short approached the Division of Student Life (DSL) with an idea to incentivize residence halls to order food from local eateries. This would help achieve three goals: building community among students living on campus, creating a more food-secure campus, and supporting local restaurants.

In the resulting program that launched last week, DSL will defray 50% of the cost of a study break for undergraduate students organized by their graduate resident advisors (GRAs) if they order food from a local eatery. Likewise, graduate student house governments will work with DSL to plan mid-day meal breaks that are catered by a local restaurant for their residents who work on campus with costs split 50/50 between the house and DSL. In addition to the on-campus residence halls, the three off-campus fraternities, sororities, and independent living groups participating in the spring housing pilot can hold a study break organized by their GRA.

While the breaks are opportunities for students to connect with one another, plans for the gatherings must still follow MIT’s COVID-19 guidelines for face-covering, physical distancing, and space occupancy limits. Meals must be wrapped individually by the restaurant for delivery and served following COVID-safe procedures.

“This is a win for everyone involved,” said Suzy Nelson, vice president and dean for student life. “Students get to connect with one another over a meal, we create a more food-secure campus, and restaurants get some much-needed business. MIT may get the biggest benefits by supporting our on-campus community while helping our off-campus neighbors.”

If all of the communities who are eligible to participate opt into the program, dozens of local restaurants stand to get some much-needed business and every student living in MIT-approved housing would receive a meal from a local restaurant. “I hope that DSL’s program will have the positive impact we intend--these businesses and families need the help, our students deserve some variety and local flavor, and bonding over a good meal lets us share in social experiences even while physically distanced,” Professor Short added. “Going back to our favorite haunts after the pandemic is something we can all look forward to.”

Photo by Eric Kilby - Flickr: Central Square Wide (horizontal), CC BY-SA 2.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=26966451

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