Because of COVID-19, eating on campus has not been the same. As the safety of eating in dining halls remains questionable and the virtual Grubhub lines continue to test our patience, students are challenged to find a place to eat on campus that is comfortable and affordable. And to make things worse, while Hillsborough Street is the epicenter of student life at NC State, students are often dismayed to find out they can’t use their meal plans here, and they should be.
NC State presents students with a diverse array of meal plans suited to their individual needs, including three core plans for first-years, three additional plans for upperclassmen and three for athletes. Each plan allows students access to the different options on campus, and every location accepts some form of a student’s meal plan.
Because most first-years are required to live on campus and have a meal plan, finding a place to eat is not as difficult. However, for second-years or higher, a meal plan is not mandatory. As a result, eating on campus can be impractical and unnecessary, especially for students who live off campus.
Many of these students who choose to live off campus look to outside apartments. In fact, over half of the student body chose to stay in an off-campus residence. From the selection of off-campus apartments in Raleigh, the ones most accessible to the University are centrally located along or near — you guessed it — Hillsborough Street.
Although it is not officially part of the University, there is something to be said about the deep-rooted relationship between the two. For over 134 years, Hillsborough Street has been serving members of the Wolfpack in more ways than fine dining and shopping. It’s also the site of major university landmarks, including the Memorial Belltower, the Gregg Museum of Art and Design and multiple Pack traditions like the Krispy Kreme challenge.
One of the grandest traditions to transpire on Hillsborough Street is Packapalooza, a fair that brings together students and local businesses to celebrate the incoming class. Every year, except for the past two due to the pandemic, it closes off outside traffic to welcome vendors, performers, artists and much more.
Not only is the festival an exciting introduction for new students, but it’s also great exposure for the businesses that choose to participate. According to a 2019 survey report published by liveitup! Hillsborough Street, Packapalooza raked in over half a million dollars that year. Seeing that 71.9% of Packapalooza attendees were NC State students, a majority of the profits originated from students' pockets.
Needless to say, the partnership between NC State and Hillsborough Street is undeniable: students get to enjoy the wide variety of services and school events featured on the street, while Hillsborough Street reaps the rewards of their patronage. Considering the close connection, it’s almost surprising to think that no restaurants here accept student meal plans. As it turns out, that idea may not be unique to NC State students, but is also encouraged by business owners.
Ever since 2005, Nawaff Said, founder of Jasmin and Olivz Mediterranean, has been diversifying the diets of the Wolfpack with delicious Greek and Lebanese cuisine. Over several years of operation on NC State’s doorstep, Said has witnessed generations of students come and go, many of whom ask if they can use their meal plans. With two children who are alumni of the University, he knows what students want when it comes to dining.
“More students would buy into the meal plans if they were able to use them at restaurants directly associated with the campus,” Said said. “It would also make it easier for them to manage their finances if they are using the card.”
In addition to the potential benefits of expanding meal plan access to Hillsborough Street, Said recognizes the relationship between it and NC State. According to him, the success of one is contingent on the other, and I am obliged to agree. But due to the limitations placed by COVID-19, that strong bond may be waning.
From finances to a worldwide pandemic, the list of troubles facing students sees no end. Even in uncertain times, students should have the assurance of knowing where their next meal is coming from. What better way than to have that reassurance come from the place where the colors red and white are sewn into its very fabric?