'Robin Hood' leads U. to 'take out' extra swipe
Spurred by the solicitation of a new take-out meal donation program dubbed "Operation Robin Hood," the University has limited take-out swipes to only one per student at a time.
Since its creation Monday by University alumnus Charlie Kratovil, the initiative has collected more than 100 meals by asking students to get two take-out meals — permitted under the old policy — and donating one to the group, who would then drive the meals directly to soup kitchens such as New Brunswick's Elijah's Promise.
But the group encountered problems Tuesday, when University Dining Services stopped them from asking for donations inside the lobby of Brower Commons on the College Avenue campus during the lunchtime take-out period.
"We were just doing the usual … asking people to get a take-out and donate it," Kratovil said.
Dining Services administrators identified the activity on Tuesday as unauthorized solicitation and took the donated food back. They eventually contacted the Rutgers University Police Department.
"Mr. Kratovil's actions [Tuesday], although perhaps with good heart and intent, were neither condoned nor approved by proper authorities of Rutgers," said Executive Director of Dining Services Charles Sams via e-mail correspondence.
Kratovil did not have authorization to solicit inside any dining hall, Sams said. He also did not have the proper credentials or approval to solicit outside Brower.
A sign in the lobby of Brower says no solicitation is allowed, and Kratovil said missing it was an honest mistake.
Tabling is authorized through Sams' office, and free speech space through the office of the College Avenue Dean of Students Tim Grimm, Sams said.
Furthermore, the approval process has been around for awhile and is limited to recognized student organizations and occasionally University departments, he said.
"It is my understanding that Mr. Kratovil is no longer a Rutgers student. Once he refused to comply with policy, RUPD was involved," Sams said.
After negotiation, RUPD officers informed Kratovil the food that was taken would be donated as long as the group agreed to keep solicitation to the steps of Brower.
Sams said the group could not take the confiscated meals back for a variety of reasons, but in the end, some went with them.
Kratovil and his group returned outside Brower yesterday during lunch to solicit students to donate, but was unable to get many donations as Dining Services had created the new individual swipe policy for take-out.
"We've encountered abuse in the take-out swipe usage and are working on a solution; pending such, we are returning to the individual swipe per student," Sams said.
RUPD was contacted again after administrators told Kratovil he did not have a permit to solicit outside, a free speech zone, and asked the group to move below the steps, Kratovil said.
Elijah's Promise Soup Kitchen Director Yvette Molina said the food donated by Operation Robin Hood has been used to help the homeless, but the soup kitchen is still learning about the new program.
Sams said the sanitary nature of the removed foods is uncertain, and its handling, content and time until consumption are important in determining if the food is safe to eat.
Middlesex County Health Department Spokesman John Dowd said Health Director David Papi has said their department has been advised by the Rutgers' Division of Dining Services and they are investigating the matter.
"It's packaged food, it's exactly what they're looking for, we bring it while it's still warm. There's no health hazard here," Kratovil said.
The group keeps records of when the food is donated and delivered to make sure they do it while the food is hot, he said.
Sams said the program brings up other concerns.
The University's "Meal Swipe for Charity" program already allows student organizations the opportunity to lobby the Rutgers University Student Assembly, Sams said. The charity chosen then receives the money from the donated swipes not food, whether it's fresh or frozen.
"This practice removes any potential for loss of food safety or possible illness to the intended user," he said.
Guest swiping for RUSA-approved charities is permitted, but otherwise guest swipes are intended only if a student has another person with them, Sams said.
"The generic swiping of a meal for a guest is not allowed … Energies outside the approval process are considered inappropriate and, as [of] today, not allowed," he said.
There is also a financial component critical to the situation, Sams said
He said many students do not realize they have not paid for the face value of their plan. For example, the purchase price of a 285 is about 35 percent to 40 percent less than the actual value of 285 meals.
"This [is] because the University pre-discounts the plan based upon the average usage," Sams said.
Averages show students use about 170 of the 285 meals and are then charged only for that value, he said.
"This little known fact complicates actions such as those today since, in effect, the ‘donated' meal may never have been paid for in the first place," Sams said. "That's why the charity swipe program uses ‘guest meals' which are financially accounted for and available for donation or use."
Kratovil said the purpose of creating the group was to help the hungry in New Brunswick while at the same time helping students use extra meal swipes in their plans.
"In New Brunswick, you have the most fortunate people — Rutgers students with meal plans," Kratovil said. "[Students] are very lucky to have a meal plan where each meal is $10 to $15 that [their] parents or [they] pay, so to waste those is really a travesty."
School of Arts and Sciences first-year student John Maltz had signed up to volunteer for Operation Robin Hood yesterday but was angry when he found out the initiative was stopped.
"I'm just trying to help people out, and apparently the University isn't letting me do that," he said.
Rutgers College senior Catherine Suarez said she was upset with the policy change.
"I'm very disturbed that I couldn't get two swipes, because today was my busy day with classes and I couldn't have that extra swipe."
School of Arts and Sciences sophomore Jamera Sirmans was approached by Kratovil during the lunch take-out period and wanted to donate because she had extra meals in her plan and believed in the cause.
When Dining Services stopped her, she decided to try later. But when she returned for take-out dinner and found out she still could not swipe twice, she became upset.
"I don't see the point in it being just one meal swipe," Sirmans said. "We pay for our swipes. Whether or not we want to use them for our own purposes or for anyone — we pay for it."
She said at the end of every semester, she feels she is losing money because she has so many extra meals.
"It would have went for a good cause," Sirmans said. "People are hungry. Why not feed hungry people? It's my money, why can't I do what I want to do with it?"