Eric Zuniga, Campus Carrier deputy news editor
Chandler Smith, Campus Carrier staff writer
The Office of Student Involvement (OSI) will host its first grocery shuttle for students on Saturday from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. The shuttle will give students with limited access to transportation a ride to a local grocery store.
David Eller, director of student involvement, said that he has seen a good response to this pilot round of the shuttle.
“We’re starting out with this pilot to see if the fish bites the hook,” Eller said. “We had a few students sign up within ten minutes of the email going out. We are expecting about between 10 and 15 students on each trip.”
The shuttle will be operated by student bus drivers who work for OSI’s transportation team. OSI will send a sign-up link in its weekly emails to students. Participants will vote on the store each week. OSI also plans on hosting a shuttle for students who need rides to the airport at the beginning and end of each semester.
This program is part of an expansion of OSI’s transportation services. According to Eller, OSI has focused on responding to unmet student needs since his start as director in January. Eller said that parent concerns motivated the shuttle.
“It was either a SOAR session or a preview day where I had a couple of prospective parents ask for this, if this was an option,” Eller said. “Now is just the time. We’ve really restructured a lot of things in the office to be focused on providing resources like this.”
According to Eller, campus transportation has focused on publicizing its existing buses that provide transportation across campus. Bus stops are now marked by signs with a phone number that students can call to dispatch a bus.
“We have seen a very slight increase [in ridership] just by putting those signs out,” Eller said. “We’re trying to get that word out there through putting physical things on campus and then making sure that our students are marketing it as well.”
OSI has also begun to refurbish its buses. According to Eller, campus transportation plans on expanding its fleet if more students start using the bus system.
“It’s a conversation that comes up very frequently about increasing buses,” Eller said. “As that need arises, we will address that when it comes.”
According to data provided by Parking Services, 1,925 out of Berry’s approximately 2,300 undergraduate students have registered cars on campus. Students living on campus without cars face particular challenges. Eller highlighted the importance of understanding these challenges.
“If I didn’t have that car, I’m texting friends or I’m walking or I’m not going period,” Eller said. “Sometimes it’s important for us to just think about, if we didn’t have that resource, how would we operate and how many barriers would that put for us.”
This can potentially restrict someone’s ability to access fresh, healthy food. Michael McElveen, assistant dean of student wellness, said that food options on campus are mostly limited to packaged foods.
“You don’t want to be doing your grocery shopping for other stuff at things like food pods, because you will be limited to mostly packaged food, and then there’s a health component there,” McElveen said. “It’s the balance of how do I get some healthy foods and stretch my dollar, and that’s a challenge.”
Freshman Emily Bartleson, who lives on campus without a car, said that the food pods on campus are too expensive to use regularly.
“If I really need something, then yes,” Bartleson said. “Everything’s really expensive there so I try to [use the pod] as little as I can.“
McElveen’s office has hosted grocery shopping and healthy eating programs in the past. During these events, nutritionists led students on tours of grocery stores, showing them how to buy fresh food and save money with grocery apps. Students are also taught the basics of food storage and preparation.
“What we try to do in some of our demonstrations is to leave students a few tips,” McElveen said. “You buy the chicken, so you need to know how to store it, how to handle it safely and then when you’re cooking it, simple things.”
Eller said that the OSI is looking at partnering with McElveen’s nutrition team to host these programs in the future.
For many students without cars, reliance on friends for rides off campus is a fact of life. Bartleson said that being involved socially on campus helps her from feeling confined.
“I’m sure it’s eventually going to feel a little bit confining to have to stay on campus all the time, but if I need to get a ride on campus, there’s plenty of clubs and stuff I’m involved in,” Bartleson said.
Eller said that his office has considered partnering with the Rome Transit Department, which operates six bus routes throughout the city. Rome transit currently picks up passengers from Berry only upon request.
“In the future, I can foresee that there will be some conversations, not just with transportation but community engagement period,” Eller said.
Eller encouraged students, who need help meeting any need, to reach out to the OSI, located in the Krannert lobby.
“If a student is experiencing any type of lack of resource, they can reach out to us,” Eller said. “We can direct them to the resource on campus or even off-campus resources as well.”