EAST LANSING, Mich. — When the street lights come on on Michigan State University's campus and before the students settle in for the night, dining halls like Akers get hit with a dinner rush.
Megan Varner has worked in the dining halls for seven years.
“I was a student, graduated here, always worked in the caf and now a manager four years later,” Varner said.
But she has never seen a staffing shortage as bad as it is now.
“Before we’ve always heard, 'Oh we’re short staffed.' We’re always short staffed, you know? We pull together, but nothing like what we’ve come through the last year and a half,” Varner said.
Carla Iansiti is a residential and hospitality services employee, but has been volunteering in the dining halls to add an extra set of hands.
“It’s just something that we do,“ Iansiti said. "We help the dining halls until they can get some staff to get them hired and get them trained and it’s just kind of lasting longer than usual.”
Iansiti wants to make sure every student is served.
“The students have all been so wonderful," Iansiti said. "The manners that they have, they've been very grateful. They eat a lot, don’t get me wrong on that, but they are absolutely wonderful.”
Residential and Hospitality Services Spokesperson Kat Cooper said the staffing shortage is slowly improving.
“We went from being short about 90 people every week to being about 40 people short every week,” Cooper said.
Which means more dining options can come back.
“We’re about to announce some dine-in weekend hours at Shaw and Landon that students have really been asking for,” Cooper said.
But there's another issue the dining halls are facing: supply shortages.
“You never know what you’re going to have when you show up for work,” Iansiti said.
“It has been a struggle continuously trying to find new supplies, new products, it’s a day to day bases almost,” Varner said.
Which sometimes causes workers to put their heads together and get creative.
“There was one shift where we even had to take clam shells and cut them in half to make sure we had service wear," Iansiti said. "So, we have plenty of plates and bowls, you don’t know what it’s going to look like, but it’s been okay.”
Despite the shortages, Iansiti said she enjoys working in the dining halls for the food and the people.
“They feed me that’s an awesome part because the food is incredible," Iansiti said. “I’m working next to the administrators and working with students. It brings back old memories.”
Varner said both these challenges are making them a better team.
“At the end of the day, it really makes everyone be a better team and a lot of self improvement and it’s been a journey,” Varner said.
And both encourage others to help in any way they can.
“If you want something that’s rewarding and simple work and really close to home, this is definitely the place to be,” Iansiti said.
“It’s an awesome resume builder you meet so many people in the community and it will change your experience overall on campus,” Varner said.
To make sure no student leaves hungry.
“We want to make sure these students succeed academically and part of that is making sure that their bellies are full and that they can concentrate on their studies,” Cooper said.
Cooper said the next hiring fair is Friday, Dec. 3 from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. at Munn Ice Arena. Hiring will continue for the spring semester.
Brody Hall will remain closed to the public for at least the rest of the year. Cooper said they could consider reopening it next spring.