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Off-campus dining option benefits students and community

Liberty University students returned to campus this fall to a new student ID card, the Flames Pass, that also has a declining balance account for students to use at approved restaurants, on or off campus.

Pat Faulkinberry, Liberty’s director of Card Services, says offering funds for off-campus dining as part of a student’s meal plan was the vision of Chancellor Jerry, Falwell, Jr., and is a relatively new concept for colleges and universities.

“We are ahead of most [universities] in providing a deposit into that account as part of the meal plan,” she said. “I have only found three other universities that provide funds as part of their meal plans.”

This addition of Flames Cash not only means students have a flexible meal plan option, but restaurant owners in the community can profit from an increase in student-patrons.

In a recent study based on 2009 fiscal data, Mangum Economic Consulting, LLC of Richmond, Va., reported that Liberty students, employees and staff contribute $217 million in direct spending in the Lynchburg area. With $1.2 million in Flames Cash allocated to students’ meal plans during the 2010-11 school year, local merchants can now expect that profit to rise even higher in the next year.

Alumnus Robin Dimond (’04), owner of the local restaurants Robin Alexander and StikFire Grill, considers Liberty students crucial to her customer base.

“I know the value of Liberty in this town and I think it’s absolutely phenomenal how much they are growing,” said Dimond. “You can tell that the whole city expands and greatly appreciates when they come back in town.”

She welcomes the opportunity for students to eat off campus.

“I think it’s a great program and [provides] a place that you can go out and eat with your friends and experience the city … and it changes up your location.”

Faulkinberry says students are enjoying the added flexibility of dining at more than 20 restaurants off campus, and were a part of the process of selecting the participating eateries.

Dawn Riley, whose son Michael is a sophomore at Liberty, enjoys the convenience of Flames Cash both as a parent, and for her son.

“I know that it is important to him to go off campus and socialize at different restaurants, just to get off and kind of relax,” she said. “I just love that feature this year.”

Sophomore Ben Bailey enjoys the flexibility that Flames Cash has added to his meal plan.

“Sometimes you get a little tired of the food on campus, so it’s kind of nice to have designated cash you can take off campus and use whenever you want to.”

Sarah Wells, a junior communication studies major, agrees.

“I love Flames Cash because it gives me a larger variety of places to eat, rather than just always eating on campus,” she said. “I also love that we can use it at the bookstore coffee shop on campus.”

In addition to offering Flames Cash, the Flames Pass is the official student ID, which provides access to campus facilities, events, activities and on-campus meal plans. In the future it will be used for admittance to sporting events, on-campus printing and laundry, vending purchases, and more.