Chaos ensued on Aug. 31 when rumors began circulating around campus that Liberty Bucks that had initially rolled over from last semester’s early closure were going to disappear at midnight. The result: a rush on campus food services.
The rumor was true. In an unintended move by the college and food provider Bon Appetit, leftover Liberty Bucks (formerly known as Charger Change) from the previous semester were accidentally made available to students for the first week of the fall 2020 semester, and then disappeared at the end of August.
“It was by no means intentional,” David Apthorpe, director of Bon Appetit, said in an email. “There were a lot of long days trying to reconfigure the dining program to comply with state mandates, enact safeguards for students, faculty, and staff, and create capacity to ensure that we could feed everyone in a timely manner. Clearing the balances was not top of mind.”
According to Apthorpe, the process of clearing balances is manual and involves the cooperation of multiple departments.
“With all of the efforts to meet the COVID-related guidelines, we didn’t initiate the process to remove returning students’ meal plans and balances in time,” he said.
Apthorpe said he regrets the lack of communication with the various Bon Appetit retail locations on campus — Penny’s, A.J. ‘s Cafe, and the C Store — and that Liberty Bucks shouldn’t have been available until the Fall 2020 meal plans were finalized.
“Unfortunately, we allowed students with active balances to make purchases,” Apthorpe said. “When we realized that this was not the correct way to handle it, we had to suspend Liberty Bucks transactions after some frenzied buying. It was an uncomfortable situation, one that we expect to be more proactive in responding to should something similar come up again.”
As student employees let others know that the balances would no longer be available after August, students rushed to take full advantage of their credit. Many students felt that they were owed the credit, which they paid for with their meal plans, as the coronavirus shutdowns had prevented them from making full use of the funds.
One of these students was junior Tom Bricher, who became aware of the situation when he saw that A.J.’s Cafe was a “madhouse.” Remembering that Penny’s also accepts Liberty Bucks, he went there to try his luck, and was encouraged by the barista to go all out while he had the chance.
“So I bought all of the La Croix that they had, 26 cans,” Bricher said. “I still had over $150 in Charger Change. I don’t even like La Croix that much. But I paid for that Charge Change so I was going to use it.”
Jen Lutz, the Penny’s manager, said she wasn’t too bothered by the whole experience.
“We ran out of everything — all of our non-perishables except for coffee beans,” she said. “But we had a ton of business, which was great for us, and of course we loved seeing the increased foot traffic.”