Lauren Barnes ’23
On Wednesday, October 20, Ford Hall held a trial return to Mercersburg Academy’s traditional family style meals. If all goes well, family style meals will become the norm once again. While most students and faculty members are excited about this change, especially the large number of new and returning students who have never experienced a Mercersburg family style meal before. Nevertheless, some are apprehensive given the risk of COVID spread that remains possible for large groups of people gathering in enclosed spaces. Additionally, this will be a first for Mercersburg’s food service Merriwether-Godsey which began its contract in the fall of 2020.
Acting head of school Quentin McDowell says, “I am really excited for our school to return to family style meals. Not only is this a core tradition that has existed since our founding, it is also a critical community builder. Sharing a meal is an intimate experience and creates the intentional space for conversation and connection to occur between community members, many of which may not otherwise engage regularly with one another. It also provides a guaranteed place for everyone, eliminating what can be a nerve wracking debate about where to sit and who to sit with.”
Family style meals are vital to the network that is built between community members each year. During the school week, every lunch and specified dinners is required. Students and faculty members eat at assigned tables that usually change every two weeks. The goal is that each member of the community will get to know a majority of the students and faculty across the school year.
With COVID-19, the school transitioned to buffet style meals in the 2020-21 school year. This fall, students have gradually moved back into the dining hall where they can eat with increasing numbers of friends. However, they have also had the choice to take food in bento boxes back to their dorms or outside. With family style meals beginning again, students will be required to attend some meals seated in the dining hall.
New students are conflicted about the transition from purely buffet style to sit-down family meals. One new student, Caitlyn Pritzker ‘25, says, “I’m not excited for them to start. I really liked just getting a bento box and sitting outside with my friends whenever I wanted, plus I don’t like sitting in the dining hall to eat lunch or dinner.” Another new student, Sydney Watts ‘25, felt a bit differently about the transition. “I am super excited to get to experience a Mercersburg tradition that has been here for years. I’m happy that I get to experience this during this hard time of COVID. I am excited to get to know new people and faculty. Go storm!” Watts says.
Returning students who have experienced family style meals are for the most part excited for their return. Sam Jacobs ‘23 experienced family style meals at the beginning of her junior year. Jacobs says, “I’m excited for family style meals to begin again because I feel like they really bring the community together. But I feel like I have a bit more flexibility in my schedule with buffet meals which is nice in a way.”
McDowell says, “I have missed the chance to meet and get to know so many of our amazing students that I would not otherwise encounter on a regular basis. I also miss the connections formed with the colleagues I have shared a table with, most notably Mr. Vink who was my table partner for 12 years prior to his retirement. Perhaps the only thing I do not miss, like many others, is the hustle to get to dinner after a full day, but I am always glad to be there when I arrive.”