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Junior expands dining options for allergic students

| Tuesday, March 4, 2014

As a student nutritional adviser through Sodexo at Saint Mary’s College, junior Megan Steron works with Barry Bowles, director of dining services, to ensure students with allergies can access healthy options in the dining hall.
Her role as a bridge between Sodexo, a food and facilities management services company, and students began her freshman year, she said.
“I have celiac disease, so I have a really strict diet, and beginning my freshman year there were very few options,” Steron said, “So on a volunteer basis I worked with Barry every other week to give feedback about new things. I was heavily involved in advising the gluten free section in the C-Store and I also coordinated with students with other allergies … I had a feeling it was bigger than just me, and I was right.”
This year, Steron has a table set up in Nobel Family Dining Hall in order to communicate with students who are trying to balance allergies with dining hall options.
“Ideally, I would like all students with an allergy to talk to me … because that way [Barry and I] can know we have this many girls with this allergy, this many with that allergy … I want to get all the girls with allergy sensitivities to come to talk to me so I know what we’re working with,” she said.
When a student approaches her table, Steron first encourages the student to set up an appointment with Barry to get a special sticker for their student ID card. The sticker allows the student to get special frozen items specifically for students with allergies, Steron said.
“Then I would walk with you through the dining hall and point out areas that are easiest [to work with]. The international stir fry area is awesome,” she said, “I would … introduce key staff that are really strong with working with allergies, and then I would finish by bringing you by the corner where we have the pre-packaged items.”
In conversation with the student, Steron said she would be sure to ask about their opinions on available options and ask what items the student would like to see.
Steron said her mission is to talk to students and encourage them to open up about their allergies, and their input is taken seriously.
“I would love as many girls as possible to talk to me so we can get a better feel of what people like, what can we change, what can we improve and what’s going to serve our community the best,” Sternon said.
A significant improvement she has noticed since her freshman year is an increase in staff awareness of cross-contamination.
“The biggest problem with celiac disease and some other allergies is cross contamination,” she said. “I have gotten sick from people using the wrong spoon on my food. When you have to be that concerned about cross contamination, that cuts out a lot of your options that might otherwise be safe … [but] it has gotten so much better.”
As the primary link between students and Barry, she said she hopes students will feel comfortable sharing any questions or concerns with her.
“If I was the only person on this campus [with an allergy] I would deal with it, but I’m not,” Steron said. “The first priority is getting everybody fed; the second priority is getting everybody fed well.”

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About Kathryn Marshall

Kathryn Marshall, Saint Mary's College '17, is a Biology and Humanistic Studies double major. Follow Kathryn on Twitter @kmarshallSMC

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