Sage Dining During Coronavirus: “Trial by Fire”

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“It’s all trial by fire.” As Sage director Jeremy Canning describes the new Covid dining experience, he expresses that the new adjustments to Casady’s lunch system have been anything but easy. 

Starting as early as March of 2020, Canning and his staff have been drafting plans for a lunch process that complies with CDC guidelines for social distancing and sanitation. Although the planning started months before the new school year, Sage has already had to enact a number of changes once their plans were set into action. 

According to Canning, the greatest challenge his team has dealt with is the physical barrier posed by the Casady Lake. While food-transportation to Lower and Middle divisions is executed with ease, the Upper Division’s inconvenient location has caused many problems for the Sage staff. If a vegetable shortage occurred in the buffet line outside of Records, another fifteen minutes must pass before a replenishment can arrive at UD. Although Sage has access to golf carts for transportation, loading and unloading the food takes up a significant amount of time, and the sidewalk is seldom free of pedestrians. Jeremy joked, “If we had a boat, transportation would definitely be a whole lot easier.” 

In addition to Casady Lake, Sage has had to adjust to the new quantities of food they must cook each day. Especially with the Upper Division, Sage faces numerous food shortages mid-lunch. Even in the middle of my interview with Canning, he received a phone call from a staff member stationed at UD: “Out, out?” Canning asked, concerned. “Out of fries? All eight? Let me see what we’ve got over here and I’ll send it over.” While in previous years, seven cases of fries have satisfied the entire Upper Division, eight cases in the new Covid lunch system failed to suffice. This is especially baffling because there are actually fewer students who require food from Sage as a result of both remote learners and those in the “opt-out” lunch program, where students bring their own meals. 

Although Sage has had to adjust on-the-fly to these challenges, the staff’s performance has been quite impressive, as they began the school year largely understaffed. While in previous years, the staff has consisted of twelve members, the team had only seven workers at the beginning of August. When asked why such a large portion of the staff had chosen to leave, Canning shifted in his chair: “Although there were a lot of contributing factors, some refused to follow our safety guidelines, like mask-wearing. Others simply had to move away.” In the past two weeks, Canning has added four new staff members, but the team still lacks a baker. 

As he reflected on all the obstacles his team has had to overcome in the span of a few weeks, Canning shook his head as he recalled the first two weeks of school: “Packing 700 box lunches. Was. A. Nightmare.” As soon as the Upper Division left Calvert, Sage immediately got to work, forming an assembly line and packing the boxes with the nonperishable items: packaged cookies, meal kits, fruit. The packing would continue early the next day around 6 a.m. when the first staff members began to trickle in. 

In recent weeks, Sage has lowered their box lunches from 700 to 200, as both the Lower Division and Middle Division enjoy hot lunches every day. This week, the Upper Division will also make the switch to daily hot lunches. Additionally, high schoolers will attempt a new system. Students will walk across the lake to Calvert, just as they have done in previous years. They will pick up a box lunch, and the grades scheduled to eat in Calvert will do so, while others will go to their assigned lunch rooms in the UD campus to enjoy their meals. While this new system is not guaranteed to work, Canning remains hopeful for its success. “We can try and use the UD buffet, but if there’s something better we can do, we want to try it. At the end of the day, our biggest goal is to serve and please the students.”