AJ’s Cafe, where Hills­dalians often study. Courtesy | Regan Meyer

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.”