Feeding NYU in aftermath of storm

October 31, 2012

Mindy Torres, NYU dining staff member, and John Olivarria, university cook, have been sleeping on a cot on the eighth floor of the Kimmel Center for Student Life since Sunday. Waking up at 5 a.m. and working roughly 12 to 18 hours a day, they have been serving hot meals to thousands of NYU students. Olivarria has been running on three hours of sleep. Torres only speaks to her daughter once a day.

“We go to sleep late, we wake up super duper early, and we make sure [NYU students] have what they need,” Torres said. “They thank us everyday, they appreciate that we’re here, and they acknowledge us, which is really beautiful.”

Torres, along with 60 other NYU dining staff employees and hundreds of NYU students, have flocked to Kimmel for food, electricity and running water. In the wake of Hurricane Sandy, the university closing seven dormitories and buildings south of Midtown losing power late Monday night, students have evacuated to nearby residence halls and university buildings.

Kimmel and Weinstein are two of three NYU buildings in power with dining services currently in full operation. Yesterday, the university served over 12,000 students and 300 university staff members. Because of the size of the NYU student body, serving the community has not been easy. NYU dining managers were shuttled in vans to other dining locations on Monday and Tuesday to salvage any food they could, while workers filed in from the surrounding boroughs. Some biked from East Brooklyn, while others walked from 176th street and Davidson Avenue in the Bronx.

“I am very proud of the team, both the management and the hourly staff,” said George Hellen, senior district manager of ARAMARK. “They’ve worked their butts off. They all felt they were a part of team that could accomplish something.”

Even though dining services in nearby residence halls came to a halt Monday night when NYU lost power, food services at Kimmel and Weinstein have been operating in full force. Sid Wainer, an NYU vendor in Connecticut, replenished Kimmel and Weinstein today with food. Hot meals and cold sandwiches are offered with the help of managers and baristas from Argo Tea and Starbucks who help cook, assemble sandwiches, and serve students waiting in line.

“As students are witnessing, between NYU and New York City, there comes a nice, small, helpful type of community during times of crisis,” said Owen Moore, director of NYU dining services.

Though the lines for food may be long and the situation stressful, the atmosphere has remained lively and optimistic. Olivia Thompson-Bessett, Tisch junior, was able to find vegetarian options to accommodate her dietary needs and appreciates the NYU dining staff for their hard work.

“Kudos to the dining staff for working through this,” Thomspon-Bessett said. “They’ve been so helpful while we’re just hanging out here [at Kimmel].”

As the dining staff continues to work around the clock to feed the NYU community housed in dorms and university buildings throughout Greenwich Village, NYU vendors and main suppliers will resume their regular food deliveries starting tomorrow. In the coming days, all NYU dining locations will be cleaned and sanitized in preparation for a restoration of power to lower Manhattan. Once electricity returns, Moore anticipates at least 12 to 24 hours of planning in order for dining halls to reopen, allowing for products to come in, be stored, and prepared.  Not all dining halls will reopen at once, Moore said, but their main priority will be larger locations.

“I want to let the students know that NYU dining, university student affairs, public safety, and facility management are working extremely hard to make this current situation as pleasant as possible for everyone,” Moore said. “For the students, we appreciate their support and their patience. As soon as we can, we want to get things back to normal as soon as possible.”

If NYU faces a similar situation in the future, dining operations will convert to a more banquet buffet style of service from the beginning.

“We did this on the second day of the power outage, and it greatly reduced waiting time for students and speeded up service,” Hellen said. “Though our intention to operate normally was noble in my view it wasn’t realistic given the sheer numbers of customers we had to service out of only two locations.”

Additional reporting by Esha Ray. Kristina Bogos is a staff writer. Email her at kbogos@nyunews.com.

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