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VCU adds PPE vending machines stocked with masks, hand sanitizer, and wipes

With COVID-19 cases on the rise, Virginia Commonwealth University has begun to place vending machines stocked with personal protection equipment like masks, hand sanitizer, and soon, wipes.

Capital News Service

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By Brandon Shillingford

Students returning to campus this fall will find vending machines stocked full of snacks, sodas, and now personal protective equipment too.

The machines located throughout Richmond-based Virginia Commonwealth University are filled with masks and hand sanitizer and soon, wipes. The supplies are available to students and employees for free, with a once a month limit. Individuals choose what they need and swipe their VCUCard to dispense a product.

VCU officials said they started planning preventative measures months ago to help keep students safe.

“In March, we started out at ground zero,” said Richard Sliwoski, associate vice president of facilities management at VCU. “We had to get things here to make sure we could get folks on campus safely.”

The first solution was to hand out starter supply kits with masks, hand sanitizer and wipes. The university’s next question was what to do when the kits became empty.

VCU then contacted W.W. Grainger Inc., an industrial supply company with vending machines already on campus, about acquiring more machines for masks and hand sanitizer. The process was easy since the university already has a contract with the Lake Forest, Illinois-based company, Sliwoski said.

“There is no cost to us for the machines,” Sliwoski said. “They provide all our parts for all of the fixes, faucets, whatever, we source it through them.”

Out of a handful of Virginia colleges CNS contacted, only George Mason University confirmed by publication that it also dispenses masks and sanitizer through vending machines. But across the nation, other universities are adding such vending to campuses, as are airports and cities.

Students at VCU said they were pleased with the new machines but questioned how effective they can be if no one knows about them.

“I’m glad they have these as an extra option for those who are running out of hand sanitizer and stuff because it’s clear they have plenty,” said VCU junior Travis Krickovic. “It’s a really good measure to just make sure everyone has the PPE they need, I’m just wondering and really hope everyone knows about it.”

VCU freshman Mary Dorra appreciates the efforts the university is taking but wonders if more safety practices are needed to keep students safe.

 “It makes me feel safer. I’m not sure if it’s enough but at this point I don’t really know what else you can do,” she said about the new machines. “You could do more temperature checks outside of classes and things like that but even then you could be asymptomatic, so that might not do much.”

There are 10 machines at VCU. Five are located on the Medical College of Virginia Campus in the Tompkins-McCaw Library and the Mcguire Hall and Annex, and the Hunton, Larrick and McGlothlin Medical Education centers. The other five reside on the Monroe Park Campus in Snead Hall, the T. Edward Temple Building, James Branch Cabell Library, VCU Student Commons, and the Bowe Street Parking Deck.

Grainger said it provides the machines as part of a wider agreement with VCU but did not disclose the contract amount when asked.

VCU also has put tape or signs on seats to diminish capacity in dining areas to reduce the spread of COVID-19. Common spaces also indicate where to stand in line or sit at a table.

As of Thursday, there are 97 active cases of COVID-19 at VCU, according to the university’s dashboard. The university is reporting 49 new cases this week and 191 total.

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The Capital News Service is a flagship program of VCU’s Richard T. Robertson School of Media and Culture. In the program, journalism students cover news in Richmond and across Virginia and distribute their stories, photos, and other content to more than 100 newspapers, television and radio stations, and news websites.

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Virginia bill seeks to guarantee free school meals to students advances to Senate

The Virginia House of Delegates passed a bill this month to provide free school meals for 109,000 more public school students in the commonwealth.

Capital News Service

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By Aliviah Jones

The Virginia House of Delegates passed a bill this month to provide free school meals for 109,000 more public school students in the commonwealth.

House Bill 5113, introduced by Del. Danica Roem, D-Prince William, passed the chamber unanimously. Roem’s bill requires eligible public elementary and secondary schools to apply for the Community Eligibility Provision through the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Food and Nutrition Service.

“School food should be seen as an essential service that is free for everyone regardless of their income,” Roem said.

The program allows all students in an eligible school to receive free breakfast and lunch. Currently, 425 schools are eligible for CEP but don’t take part in the program, according to a document that details the financial impact of the legislation. More than 420 schools and 200,000 students participated in CEP during the 2018 to 2019 school year, according to the Virginia Department of Education.

The bill allows eligible schools to opt-out of the program if participating is not financially possible.
Most Virginia food banks have purchased twice as much food each month since the pandemic started when compared to last year, according to Eddie Oliver, executive director of the Federation of Virginia Food Banks.

“We’re just seeing a lot of need out there and we know that school meal programs are really the front line of ensuring that kids in Virginia have the food they need to learn and thrive,” Oliver said.

Virginia school districts qualify for CEP if they have 40% or more enrolled students in a specified meal program, such as the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) and Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF). It also includes homeless, runaway, migrant, and foster children, Roem said.

Sandy Curwood, Director of the Virginia Department of Education Office of School Nutrition Programs, said school districts receive federal reimbursement based on a formula.

“Making sure that children have access to good healthy food, and particularly through school meals I think is a great opportunity,” Curwood said.

The federal government will reimburse schools that have more than 62.5% students who qualify for free meals, Roem said. Schools with between 55% and 62.4% of students enrolled will receive between 80% and 99% reimbursement.

“If HB 5113 is the law, how their children will eat during the school day will be one less worry for students and their families,”, said Semora Ward, a community organizer for the Hampton Roads-based Virginia Black Leadership Organizing Collaborative. The meals are available whether children are physically in schools or attending virtual classes.

The Virginia Black Leadership Organizing Collaborative has raised $8,000 in the past three years for unpaid school meals in Hampton and Newport News, according to Ward.

“While we are pleased with these efforts and the outpouring of community support, we should have never had to do this in the first place,” she said.

Roem was one of several legislators that took on the USDA earlier this year to not require students to be present when receiving free school meals during the pandemic. The Virginia General Assembly passed Roem’s bill earlier this year that allows school districts to distribute excess food to students eligible for the School Breakfast Program or National School Lunch Program administered by the USDA.

HB 5113 has been referred to the Senate Education and Health Committee.

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U of R’s Sharp Viewpoint Series features pairs of thought leaders from across the political aisle

Conversations about bipartisanship, the 2020 election, and viewpoint diversity will distinguish this year’s Sharp Viewpoint Speakers Series. This year’s series focuses on engaging in dialogue to foster change.

RVAHub Staff

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Conversations about bipartisanship, the 2020 election, and viewpoint diversity will distinguish this year’s Sharp Viewpoint Speakers Series. This year’s series focuses on engaging in dialogue to foster change. University of Richmond President Ronald A. Crutcher will host a series of conversations about pressing issues of our time with pairs of thought leaders from across the political aisle.

“The Sharp Speaker series provides us a unique opportunity to foster dynamic and critical conversations,” Crutcher said. “Each program this year will include two speakers from opposite sides of the political spectrum.  I’m particularly looking forward to the energetic and thought-provoking conversation that will occur with both speakers together.”

Due to COVID-19, events will be held via live stream.

This year’s series includes:

Sept. 21, 7 p.m.

Bipartisanship: What’s Changed and What’s in Store

Denis McDonough, former White House Chief of Staff under President Barack Obama

Mike Sommers, former Chief of Staff to Speaker of the House John Boehner

The two will discuss American political bipartisanship in the Trump era, the state of the 2020 U.S. presidential race, and possibilities for compromise amidst extreme political polarization.

Nov. 11, 7 p.m.

The 2020 Elections: What Happened?

Mary Kate Cary, a former speechwriter for President George H.W. Bush

Mary Anne Marsh, Democratic political analyst, and consultant

They will discuss the 2020 election results and their implications for critical national issues, including the ongoing COVID-19 crisis and response, economic recovery, and a new era of American civil rights activism. 

March 26, 2021, 7 p.m.

Friendship and Dialogue Across Difference

Cornel West, philosopher, political activist, and professor at Harvard University

Robert P. George, American legal scholar, and professor at Princeton University

West and George are friends and former colleagues who will discuss the importance of fostering dialogue and cultivating friendships across ideological and political divides.

These live-streamed events are free and open to the public, and registration is required. To register for the Sept. 21 event, visit www.crowdcast.io/e/university-of-richmond/register.

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University of Richmond listed as #22 top national liberal art college, highest ranking ever

This ranking is UR’s highest from U.S. News to date. UR ranked #23 in the 2018 and 2020 guides. The overall ranking for UR was #32 in the 2016 guide five years ago.  

RVAHub Staff

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U.S. News & World Report’s Best Colleges 2021 guide ranks the University of Richmond #22 overall among national liberal arts colleges. This ranking is UR’s highest from U.S. News to date. UR ranked #23 in the 2018 and 2020 guides. The overall ranking for UR was #32 in the 2016 guide five years ago.

The University of Richmond also ranked #25 for “Best Value” among national liberal arts colleges. Richmond is among only 1% of institutions in the U.S. with both a “need-blind” admission policy and a guarantee to meet 100 percent of demonstrated need for traditional undergraduate applicants. Thirty-nine percent of undergrads are eligible for need-based aid, and all first-year applicants are considered for merit-based aid, including full-tuition scholarships and a variety of interest-based programs.

Richmond also was named to the “Most Innovative Schools” list and ranked #18 among national liberal arts colleges. This category highlights colleges that are making the most innovative improvements in terms of curriculum, faculty, students, campus life, technology, or facilities. The ranking is the result of a peer assessment survey completed by college presidents, provosts, and admissions deans.

The University of Richmond was highlighted in the “Study Abroad” category of the “Academic Programs to Look For” ranking, coming in at #24. This accolade highlights schools that involve substantial academic work abroad for credit and value considerable interaction with the local culture. UR’s student population represents more than 70 countries, and about 65% of students graduate with an international experience.

Richmond also ranked in the Top 100 for undergraduate business programs at #97.

Additional information can be found here.

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