Harper community struggles with limited food options on campus post pandemic


Brian Gedemer, the executive chef, working with a student worker at Starbucks on April 14, 2022. (Photo by Khushi Gandhi.)

A Snickers bar from the vending machine is all Jessica Monge is left with to satisfy her hunger after 2 p.m. 

Monge started working as the coordinator at Studio V–a student-run boutique at Harper College,  in September 2021. While she understands that a lot of things are not available on campus because of the pandemic, she often struggles to find food given that her work hours surpass that of the Subway and Starbucks on campus.

“Subway, I think, closes at 2 p.m., so I need to get hungry before that,” Monge said.

The college, after being closed for almost two years due to the Covid-19 pandemic, was opened again in the fall of 2021. Ever since then, the hours of operation for Starbucks and Subway were reduced to 8 a.m. to 1 p.m. and 10 a.m. to 2 p.m.,  respectively.  Due to this, students, as well as faculty at Harper College, have been finding it difficult to get food on campus after 2 p.m. 

When asked about the reasoning for these hours, Chris Sweet, the manager of Sodexo, explained that Subway has longer hours because it is more of a lunch option, whereas Starbucks is more geared towards breakfast.  The shorter hours, he said, are because there are fewer students on campus.

Brian Gedemer, the executive chef at Harper, also justified the shorter hours for the only two food venues currently open on campus. 

“I think the real reason we close at 1 p.m. is that in the past it slows down so much that it’s not financially responsible to keep it open,” Gedemer explained.

Fall semesters at Harper have always been the busiest. Starbucks and Subway used to stay open until almost 7 p.m. or 8 p.m. However, due to Covid-19, the fall of 2021 was one of the slowest semesters on campus, which led to Sodexo decreasing the hours of operations. 

But these limited hours have impacted those who must stay on campus after two o’clock, like freshman Erum Baig, who said she is often inconveniently unable to eat on campus due to these hours.

“I usually have to go out and get it myself or order it,” Baig stated.

But timing also plays an important role in a college student’s life, she explained. 

“I have a morning class, and I also have a night class, so the timing does affect a lot of my stuff because you know I have to study, I’ve to do a paper or give an exam,” Baig said. “When it comes to getting food it’s really hard because I have to drive to certain food areas, and gas is really expensive.”

It appears that the spring of 2022 attracted more students back to campus. Approximately, 1,500 students were on campus for classes Monday through Thursday–after two o’clock — according to current enrollment records provided by the registrar’s office. 

“Now we’re kind of looking to see if we’re going to be able to adjust those hours. So we’re going to continue to evaluate that,” Sweet said. “See what students are coming in and how that flow is going and see if we can increase the business.”

Sweet projected that time changes could likely occur in the fall 2022 semester. 

However, in a follow-up interview between The Harbinger and Mr. Sweet, he said that after a discussion with decision makers, Sodexo decided to extend the hours at both the Starbucks and the Subway until 3 p.m. beginning April 18, 2022.

Another reason options are scarce, is because the Harper cafeteria, which once offered many food options, is no longer in operation. It was closed down due to Covid-19 and has still not opened up due to the lack of student population on campus.

The Harper cafeteria located in Building A was completely empty on April 7, 2022. (Photo by Khushi Gandhi)

“They had a salad bar, pizza, grilled cheese, burgers, etc. There were like a lot of different things you could eat!” Harper student Safia Arastu said, reminiscing about the foods the Harper cafeteria provided when it was open. “You actually had options so that if you got tired of something, you could go to something else.” 

Harper employees may be growing weary from the lack of choices too.

“At first it was no problem at all. You had Subway, you had a Starbucks and I swapped back and forth all the time. Now, the only problem is after a couple of months of that you eventually get sick— you can’t go back anymore,” commented William Huffman, a technical support specialist at Harper. 

According to Patrick Beech, Program Coordinator for the Hospitality Management Department, they are hoping to reopen the cafeteria in the fall of 2022. 

“As the college has brought people back on campus there has not been a critical mass of people required to operate the cafeteria cost-effectively,” Beech said in response to the delay of its reopening.

“Covid has made it really difficult to say “OK, let’s open the cafeteria,” Sweet added. 

In a survey conducted by The Harbinger, one student remarked that they didn’t even know we had a cafeteria on campus.

Out of 62 students surveyed, about 67 percent said that they found it difficult to find food on campus. In addition to this, 90 percent of students said that they would like longer hours at the Starbucks and Subway.

“The hours at Subway suck and Starbucks is not the best place for actual food, just drinks,” Luke Hernandez, a freshman, remarked in the survey. 

Adriana Briscoe, a sophomore at Harper, who was moved to write an editorial on the same topic,  replied to the survey with frustration.

“The cafeteria is still closed, and there’s nothing freaking open past 2 p.m.!” Briscoe exclaimed.

Her frustration as a vegetarian also comes from having limited food options available to her and those that are “really expensive.”

“Not to mention that there are not enough nutritious, whole foods available, and when they are offered, they’re among the priciest. Like, forget it —  I’m better off just packing my meals for my wallet and health’s sake,” Briscoe added.

In the survey, the student voices also expressed their concerns about the vending machines not working, being empty and sometimes not being easily accessible.

One late afternoon on March 29, a source who requested to remain anonymous, tried to purchase food from the Farmer’s Fridge vending machine in Building L and found that all of the options had expired. Chips and jerky from the other vending machines were the only options left to eat. 

A photo submitted anonymously shows all the food options in the Farmer’s Fridge in Building L, expired at 2:12 p.m. on March 29, 2022.

Harper’s food services said that they understand the frustration.

“I want to make sure and emphasize that wellness of students is really important to our operations. It’s really important to me,” Sweet expressed. “Especially being that I was in the alumni of Harper college. So, you know we want to try and make the best efforts possible to take care of the student population and take care of faculty and staff.”

Beth Ripperger, the Harper Wellness manager, believes that the food options on campus are often snacks or meals that are grab-and-go, which don’t provide a lot of sustainable nutrition for students and employees. 

“Food really is the crux of well-being that if you’re not eating or sleeping it’s really hard to concentrate on movement or concentrate on your studies,” Ripperger said. “If you’re not nurturing your body or giving it the rest that it needs it’s really hard to do all the other things.”

Harper Controller Bob Grapenthein agreed that it’s really important to have more fresh and nutritious food options at Harper for the students.

“We don’t want students to be forced to eat a Twinkie, you know, before class, we don’t think that helps anybody,” Grapenthein commented.

“I think everyone agrees that we need to have more food on campus,” he continued. “The question is: how do we fund it and where are we going to pull those funds from? Because this is a new expenditure, it’s never been here before. Food has always paid for itself with the revenue from customers.”

If the population on campus does not significantly increase come fall of 2022, it is not clear at this time how the lack will be resolved for hungry campus dwellers.