Grounds for Change reopens for first time since 2020

Students wait in a socially-distanced line at Grounds for Change on Monday. It was GFC’s first day open since it closed on March 13, 2020.

Sami Mirza

Stepping into the Henderson Campus Center on Monday morning, there was an unexpectedly strong smell floating through the foyer, something different yet pleasant.


Grounds for Change is serving coffee once again on the second floor of the Campus Center after it was shuttered on March 13, 2020 due to the COVID-19 pandemic. The not-for-profit student-run business has gone through significant changes to accommodate public health guidelines, but still hopes to retain its signature atmosphere and commitments to sustainability.

One of the key changes has been in the layout of the space. Sam Gallagher, ’21, president of GFC, noted that the space is far less crowded than normal.

“Just this past weekend, (Physical Plant) has taken out six or so couches,” Gallagher said. “The space has been physically-distanced so the tables are at least six feet apart. We also have some stickers on the ground to ensure that the line formation is six feet apart for every participant.”

Though the space has been physically-distanced, in-person dining is some weeks away. GFC has established a three-phase system of reopening to ensure that.

“In the red phase, GFC is solely run by the board members, so there are only 12 of us occupying the space. Our hours are super limited,” Gallagher said. “In the yellow phase, our volunteers are all introduced back on campus. We have this pod system implemented this semester, so all of our volunteers will be in a pod of up to four people, and you’re able to work in that pod of four … That way, if anything happens here, contact tracing is pretty limited.”

The final phase — green — is where in-person dining will occur. Gallagher said that GFC’s full reopening will coincide with  Allegheny’s dining halls.

“We’re most closely following the dining halls on campus, so whenever you’re able to dine in-person at Brooks again, that’s probably when you’d be able to dine in-person in GFC as well,” Gallagher said. “The markers, in terms of who approves us, is just the (Allegheny College Health Agency), generally. I’ve been working super-super closely with Dr. Morrow. We meet via email or in-person at least once a week to talk about every measure that we’ve been doing in GFC to get her stamp of approval on it.”

But in-person dining goes beyond just having seating available. Luis Mendoza, ’22, a GFC board member, thinks that the space functions as more than just a convenience stop.

“It’s super important that we’re still here because we think that we’re a big staple to Allegheny’s community,” Mendoza said. “Last semester … random people would walk up to (board members) and be like, ‘When’s GFC opening again?’ So it’s just nice to finally be open again because now we get to serve all of our people, which is what we love doing.”

Rebecca Newton, ’22, volunteered for both her first and sophomore years before the pandemic hit. Though she returned Monday as a customer, she still feels a taste of the old GFC in the air.

“It feels really nostalgic,” Newton said. “It feels like this is a step towards normalcy, and soon enough you’ll walk in and all of your friends will be sitting and doing homework together. At least, that’s the hope.”

For Newton, part of what distinguishes GFC from the other dining options is the student-run aspect of the club. She likes connecting to the baristas on a personal level.

“I think it means a lot more when it’s your peers,” Newton said. “Maybe it’s someone that you walk in and see behind the counter who’s in one of your classes but you’ve never really said hello. I think a lot of people are really welcoming in the way that they’ll spark a conversation while they’re making your drink … And maybe you wouldn’t think so because it’s just a pickup space right now, but you have to wait on the six-foot dots for a little bit so maybe (that will) spark up a conversation.”

GFC remained shuttered for the entire fall semester, but Mendoza said that this was not due to an unwillingness to reopen. Rather, it was because the administration was already swamped with work, and GFC’s advisor told them to postpone reopening until the administration was able to guide the process more closely.

“We were a little sad, but completely fine with it,” Mendoza said. “We took that semester to actually plan out what we wanted to do and how we wanted things to look which was super nice. We tried to think of a different way where we’d still be able to present ourselves, which is why we did the GFC pop-ups on campus.”

Gallagher noted that the club’s professional standing as a food vendor necessitated such administrative approval

“I do think we were held to a significantly high standard in terms of reopening because not only are we a club affiliated with ASG on campus, but we’re a properly-running business that needs to maintain health code and abide by so many regulations both in place by the state and from Dr. Morrow and the ACHA,” Gallagher said. “That made things difficult, but not difficult in a sense that it was not doable. It’s just that every move that we’ve ever made as a coffee shop had to be thought about and restrategized.”

One of the changes made to accommodate ACHA’s guidelines was the introduction of single-use compostable cups. This replaces GFC’s traditional system of using reusable ceramic coffee mugs, which are more eco-friendly but less practical for the pandemic. Newton doesn’t see this as a rejection of GFC’s commitment of sustainability, but as a necessary step towards reopening.

“Even when we were doing the training (last Sunday), we’re hoping that once we get far enough into a safe place, that you can go back to those reusable mugs,” Newton said. “But I think they do such a good job of composting grounds and all of that kind of thing that the mugs are definitely going to have their comeback. Especially because so many people have their fav


One option that Gallagher left open was that customers could bring their own reusable mugs once restrictions are lifted.

“If you were here in the green phase and you had a mug, I don’t think I would say that you’re not allowed to use it, but I don’t think that’s been (formally) approved by Dr. Morrow,” Gallagher said. “Until further notice we’ll be doing disposable cups.”

Grounds for Change is open for takeout Monday through Thursday, 8-11 a.m. and 8-11 p.m, Friday 8-11 a.m. and 5-8 p.m., and Sunday 7-9 p.m. on the second floor of the Campus Center.