It takes a village: Penn Staters volunteer to help with quarantine and isolation

October 07, 2020

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. — A normal semester at Penn State requires an army of employees to see that students are comfortably housed, well-supported and fed as they pursue their studies. But as the COVID-19 pandemic continues, this year is no normal year.

Since the beginning of the fall semester, Housing and Food Services and Residence Life collaboratively developed and launched additional services especially for students in quarantine and isolation due to the virus. Penn State employees from outside those areas also are stepping up and volunteering their time to support ill students. 

Over the summer, Penn State announced several plans and precautions in preparation for the fall semester to help students, faculty and staff reduce their exposure to coronavirus. One strategy was designating 400 single rooms with private baths in Eastview Terrace at University Park to isolate or quarantine students who tested positive or who were identified through contact tracing as being exposed to the coronavirus. At Penn State Commonwealth Campuses, students are being quarantined and isolated in various on-campus and off-campus facilities.

Two additional services — Wellness Meals and Concierge Services — also were developed and launched at University Park to support the students’ daily needs.

“We had to quickly get creative with staffing,” said Diane Andrews, Penn State associate vice president of Student Affairs. “When Residence Life professionals became extremely busy with supporting students arriving, staying and departing from quarantine and isolation, there was little time to also field phone calls and emails with personal need requests.”

Cheryl Fabrizi, assistant vice president for Housing and Food Services, said that initially Housing and Food Services and other Auxiliary and Business Services staff stepped up to assist with Wellness Meals and Concierge Services on the University Park campus.

“But, as needs grew, we decided to simply ask employees at University Park if they could also support students, and the response was not only overwhelming but also heartwarming in these times,” Fabrizi said. 

To date, about 75 faculty and staff members have contributed their time during evenings, weekdays and weekends. Volunteers came from a wide array of areas including Development, Finance, Outreach, academic departments, Compliance, Housing Operations, Dining, Hospitality Services, and many more.

Once in quarantine or isolation, students are unable to leave for meals or run personal errands for convenience items. Wellness Meals is a program run by Residential Dining, in which healthy, nutritious meals are produced several times a day for staff to deliver to students’ doorsteps. There also are on-site pantries stocked with snacks, beverages and additional meals for times when students get hungry or thirsty outside normal meal hours.

allergen free lunch

When preparing meals for students in quarantine, specific allergies and food preferences are taking into consideration for every delivery.

IMAGE: Patrick Mansell

Meals are delivered with inspirational and aspirational messages penned by student groups across Penn State to let the isolated and quarantined students know that there are people around the University thinking about them and hoping for their speedy recovery. Groups working on such messages include the Student Nutrition Association and Biobehavioral Health.

Concierge Services was conceptualized by Conal Carr, director of Housing Operations, and Mark Rameker, senior director of Residence Life. Currently, Housing Operations, which is managing the sign-up schedule for volunteers, orientating volunteers, and continuing the support for students when the schedule is void of volunteers. 

“Working with the students in quarantine and isolation has truly been a University-wide effort,” Rameker said. “We have basically set-up another unit to work with and support students living with us in quarantine and isolation. The addition of volunteers to assist in the delivery of items to students has been paramount in providing students with a positive and robust experience and has been crucial in assisting the Residence Life and Housing staff.”

Volunteers also assist with deliveries of off-campus restaurant food and beverages by Grub Hub, DoorDash and others; care packages dropped off by students’ family and friends; and convenience and personal item deliveries from Target and goPuff. Volunteers also distribute student packages, which are re-routed daily from Commons Desks from the various campus residential communities.

Ken Frederick, associate director of Housing Operations & Custodial Services, explained that “volunteers are very busy during the afternoons, evenings and on weekends keeping up with a large amount and the wide variety of deliveries. It’s a great opportunity to not only help students, but to get some exercise at the same time.”

He added that while the pandemic has created difficult times for many Penn Staters, the expressions of appreciation from students make it worth it.

“After one student was placed in isolation, her mother called to say her daughter had left her phone charger in her room,” Frederick said. “Knowing our team couldn’t go right back to the room to retrieve it, a senior member of the Residential Life team offered up their own phone charger for the student to use. Before we even returned to the Concierge Desk, the mother called to express gratitude for the level of assistance and customer service that her daughter received.”

Delyn Walker, conference services and catering manager at The Penn Stater Conference Center Hotel, was just one volunteer who sprung into action.

Gina Dickinson

Customer Service Representative Gina Dickinson unpacks and sorts box lunches for delivery throughout Penn State's Nelson Hall on the morning of Sept. 30.

IMAGE: Patrick Mansell

“Students often say thank you through the door and are always very thoughtful to wait until we have moved down the hall to open their door and retrieve their meal,” Walker said. “One student was even kind enough to place a very nice thank-you note on the door.”

Walker added she enjoys being part of a program that helps embody the “We Are” spirit that makes Penn State special — especially during a time when so many people need an extra hand.

“I’m happy to work with the other volunteers and deliver meals to the students,” Walker said. “It's awesome to be part of a team that fosters a sense of community. There are so many departments here at the University that work together to create a special impact on individuals.”

Penn State University Park staff and faculty members interested in volunteering can visit the sign-up link, read the details at the top of the sign-up page, select the shift or shifts that suit them, and complete the form.

Last Updated October 14, 2020