Missing: 250 cups, 300 plates and bowls, 400 kitchen utensils.Reward: A whole lot of cash in your pockets instead of invested in next year’s meal plan.
Pete Merritt, food service director at Castleton State College, said these are just some of the items that were taken from Huden Dining Hall last semester. Theft, up to this point in the school year, has totaled thousands of dollars already, according to Merritt.
Each item stolen from Huden contributes to a more expensive meal plan for students when next school year rolls around.
“What is stolen needs to be purchased to be replaced. The money has to come from someone,” Merritt said.
There are three different types of theft that Huden that officials are trying to put an end to. The first type is theft of the small stuff like utensils and other hard goods. The second is the theft of services or food, which includes students filling Tupperware containers with food or bottles of juice and bringing them outside of the cafeteria.
And lastly, Merritt wants to put an end to people sneaking into Huden without a meal plan, or using a friend’s meal card.
Students with meal plans are allowed to eat as much food as they wish inside of the dining hall, but are not allowed to take food with them when they leave. There are exceptions, which Merritt calls “Pete rules,” in which students are allowed to grab a single piece of fruit or a bowl of ice cream for the road.
This school year, the amount of food and supplies lost has astonished Merritt, who is in his first year at CSC.
“These problems are at every college caf, but it’s about as worse here as anywhere I’ve been,” he said.
Merritt blames a lot of the theft on student confusion about the rules. Others, he acknowledged, are knowingly taking advantage of the cafeteria.
“I can’t blame them for not knowing the rules, although others are purposely sneaking things,” he said.
The rules in Huden have not changed since Merritt has taken over, but he believes the rules were not strongly enforced before this year. Because of this, a lot of students probably don’t know when they are doing something they aren’t supposed to be doing, he said.
Signs explaining what is and isn’t allowed for meal plan residents have recently been posted throughout Huden to make sure that students do know what is acceptable. Merritt said that the rules will also be clearly stated in next year’s meal plan guidelines so all incoming students will know the rules from the beginning.
These signs may stop some students from letting a friend use his or her meal plan card to get a free meal, although there are others who know what they are doing and simply don’t care.
One student, who spoke on the condition of remaining anonymous, admitted that he has taken just about everything from Huden over the past three years.
“Full napkin holders, salt and pepper shakers, cups, utensils, trays, loaves of bread, pies, meat, cheese,” he paused for a moment, and then continued “knives they use to cut the meat, a basket, and oh yeah a fire extinguisher,” he concluded with a smile.
“I don’t still have any of it. Most of the things I used once and then threw away. It was more about seeing it and wondering if I could get it then actually needing it,” he said.
He said the best thing he took were the trays that he and his friends would use behind Ellis Hall as skis – one tray under each foot.
Another student, who also didn’t want his name printed, said that he has taken cups, utensils, and other necessities needed to fill his apartment.
Capping off his list is a “Caution: wet floors” sign. “Most of what I’ve taken I still use,” he said between gulps of water from his clear, mass-produced Huden cup. “The wet floor sign I don’t use so much for its given purpose, but it’s in the living room and gets kicked around a lot.”
He said he understands that meal plans may go up next year because of his and others who steal from Huden, but that it doesn’t bother him because he won’t have a meal plan next year.
Freshmen, Nic “Powerhouse” Soares, said he has never stolen from Huden.
“One time I asked if I could take a fortune cookie and they said yes so I did, but that’s all I’ve taken from there,” he said.
Soares knows what he is and isn’t allowed to take from the dining hall and he believes that most other students do also.
“I’d be upset if the meal plan went up next year because I will be buying one, so I do care that people are stealing. Although, I know people who do and I’m not going to say anything. As long as I’m not doing it my conscience is clear,” Soares said.
Another student, Michael Lindblad, said that he has taken food out of the caf to eat it at his room because he doesn’t understand why that isn’t allowed. He doesn’t think it is right that people are stealing some things just for the sake of stealing them though.
“Why would you steal it if you aren’t going to use it? That’s just dumb,” he said.
Merritt admits that it’s hard to police people’s actions inside of Huden because so much is going on, but he has goals to first inform students, and then hope they get the point that it’s only going to raise the price of next year’s meals.
“We are doing our best to manage student’s money, but if they give food away to their friends or take things that need to be replaced, it changes our expenses. It will just make next year’s meal plan cost more money,” Merritt said.