Margaret (Maisie) Merz '21 cooks up some squash during a Quarantine Pantry session.

With students on campus steadily acclimating to a mostly virtual social environment, the need for events that bring the community together has become more and more apparent. And who doesn’t like gathering around food?

Hosted by dietitian Lela Niemetz, Quarantine Pantry is a Zoom cook-together series that has been a smash hit among students, with spots filling up every week without fail. The premise is simple; Niemetz prepares a pre-selected dish on camera while the first 15 students to sign up follow along using a box of ingredients provided. Those who are not cooking still get to watch and participate in the process, even if they aren’t physically involved in cooking.

Why has this particular series become so popular? David Walden, director of the Counseling Center, who’s helped get Quarantine Pantry organized and advertised, thinks that a lot of it comes down to the desire for social activity and bonding, and the growing independence of young adults, some of whom are dealing with managing their own lives for the first time.

“We crave connection, and this provides a really nice vehicle for [that],” he says. “It is teaching people real life skills that are so important right now to how we take care of ourselves.”                                                                                                         

One of the regular attendees of the Zoom sessions, Margaret Merz ’21, has nothing but glowing reviews of her experience. “It has definitely been one of my favorite new things this semester,” she says. A major part of her interest in it comes down to the ability to cook on campus, which is something she’s “enjoyed over the summer, but never used to do during the school year,” and the fact that it gives her something community-oriented to look forward to each week.

Katelyn Perruc ’23 says that Quarantine Pantry gives her and her suitemates a group activity to do, where the end result is healthy food that’s been made to their own liking, rather than the base dishes from the dining halls. “Every single week’s dishes have been amazing,” Perruc says, even the ones involving ingredients she wasn’t too sure about enjoying. She, too, can verify the popularity of the program, given that she’d tried once to sign up for an ingredients box a minute after the email had been sent out, only to find that all positions had already been filled.

Quarantine Pantry is held every Wednesday at 5:30 p.m. and is open to all students.

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