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Leftover flex dollars will be donated to Northfield Food Shelf

This spring, Oles have the opportunity to help out a good cause with just a swipe of their student ID cards.

Starting on Wednesday, May 1 and running through the last day that flex dollars may be spent, students can donate any unused flex dollars toward the Food Shelf in Northfield. Students can donate in increments of $1 and $5, which will then be used by the Food Shelf in Northfield to buy fresh produce from local farmers to give to families in need.

This project is the brainchild of Solvejg Wastvedt ’14 Wastvedt is a member of the editorial staff of the Manitou Messenger. She explained how the idea came to her after seeing Oles trying to get rid of their flex dollars at the end of the year by purchasing cakes, cases of juice or stacks of cookies.

“Students feel pressured to spend all their flex dollars at the end of the year because there is no opportunity to donate them or use them in another way,” Wastvedt said. “I felt the option was needed to do something constructive with that money.”

Wastvedt did research on the possibility and found out that several other schools with Bon Appétit have given students similar options, including Lawrence University in Appleton, Wis. With the help of Judy Bickel, program director of the Community Action Center of Northfield CAC, and Hana Ferronato ’14, the idea to donate the money to the Food Shelf to buy local produce was formed.

“That way, the money stays within the community,” Wastvedt said. Wastvedt then approached Peter Abrahamson, general manager at Bon Appétit St. Olaf College, with her idea.

“The Cage has never done anything like this before, simply because no one has ever approached us with an idea like this,” Abrahamson said. “I wasn’t hesitant to try it, I just didn’t have a lot of experience with a project like this. But her project seemed to fit within the Bon Appétit family, so to speak, especially because it keeps things local.”

Wastvedt wants students to be aware that they can donate as much as they wish, but the donations will follow Bon Appétit’s guidelines for food cost. When you buy $10 worth of food at the Cage, the Cage then gives you $4 worth of food. The other $6 goes toward paying wages, running the Cage, machinery and paying the people who produce the yogurt, among other costs. This 40/60 breakdown will be applied to any money donated to the Food Shelf.

Abrahamson wanted to stress that this policy is standard among restaurants and the Cage’s policy is significantly more generous than those of other food service establishments, particularly because the Cage incurs higher costs for local, sustainable food.

“We don’t want this fact discouraging students who may donate in any way,” he said. “The money still goes to a great cause and will be put to good use.” The donations, which will be taken right at the register in the Cage, go directly toward the Food Shelf operated by the CAC.

In the past, St. Olaf students have aided the CAC by volunteering, putting on fundraisers and holding food drives, but there have been fewer of these in recent years. Bickel said she was thrilled to hear of Wastvedt’s project and has very high hopes for it.

“The CAC is committed to ending hunger in Northfield. No one needs to go hungry [here],” Bickel said. “We hope Solvejg’s project is wildly successful, and I personally want students on campus to know that their donations will be spent wisely and entirely on fresh produce purchased directly from local farmers.”

Students can begin making donations next week.