August 9, 2023 : By Christian Shields - Office of Communications & Public Engagement
Hundreds of Liberty University faculty, staff, students, and members of administration, as well as several prominent Lynchburg officials and representatives from Sodexo, the university’s dining services provider, gathered for a ribbon cutting ceremony at the new Reber-Thomas Dining Center on Wednesday.
The ceremony included remarks from newly appointed Liberty President Maj. Gen. (Ret.) Dondi E. Costin, Ph.D., Chancellor Jonathan Falwell, and other members of Liberty leadership. Special guests included Lynchburg Mayor Stephanie Reed and members of the Reber and Thomas families, the center’s namesakes.
The two-story, 120,000-square-foot facility boasts a seating capacity of more than 3,000 (outdoor and indoor seating) and 27 different stations with a variety of food options. It also includes a gluten-free bake shop, an allergen-free room, and chef stations for teaching culinary arts. The center opened its doors this week in preparation for the start of the Fall 2023 semester. Classes begin on Aug. 21.
Louis Cambeletta, vice president for Auxiliary Services at Liberty, harkened back to the belief held by Liberty founder Dr. Jerry Falwell that “If it’s Christian, it ought to be better.”
“This building, along with several other buildings on campus, make that statement really clear,” he said. “(Falwell’s) vision was that if we build something or do something, it should be the best. This will be the premiere dining hall in the country. There is not another college campus in the country that has anything like this.”
Falwell noted the college’s growth over the last few decades and the continued commitment that the school has made to achieving excellence in every area.
“To see what it is today and the great work that has gone into this campus, building and developing the beautiful facilities, there is no other college campus like it on the face of the earth,” Falwell said. “I firmly believe that. We are blessed here and blessed that the leadership has brought us to this point. But most importantly, we are blessed by the people who have come alongside and helped make all of this a reality.”
Costin said when he first toured the completed facility, he called it the “EPCOT center of dining halls.” Together with Falwell, he acknowledged and thanked members of the Reber and Thomas families, who willingly donated to the university to supply the school with a cafeteria at a time when few other people wanted to support the endeavor. In 1992, Dan Reber and Jimmy Thomas Sr., two local businessmen, donated $1.4 million, the remaining funds that Liberty needed to complete The Food Court at Reber-Thomas, the university’s first large dining facility.
“Your name on this building says a whole lot, not just about you, it says a whole lot about all the hundreds of thousands of students who will walk through these doors several times a day for four years and who will then go off and do great things for God,” Costin said to the Reber and Thomas families. “Everything that they do will be credited to your account.”
In an interview after the ceremony, Duke Davis, district manager for Sodexo, said the new building and its operations created 100 new jobs for the city.
“We have close to 900 employees (working for Sodexo at Liberty), and we pride ourselves on giving jobs to the community,” he said. “One of the exciting things about this building is having 27 dining platforms. It creates a lot more job opportunities for people in town. We just love the size of this building to really serve our students the way they need to be served.”
Students were excited to try the new dining facility.
“The building is beautiful and looks amazing,” Liberty student Ezekiel Coley said while enjoying flavored soft serve ice cream, an addition to the dining options.
Junior Anna Turpin said she appreciated the willingness of university leadership to listen to the needs of the student body as they planned the facility.
“There have been a lot of students who have shown interest in wanting to expand the dining hall, and it’s awesome that they took that into consideration and provided a way for more of us to fit in the dining hall at once,” she said.
With the new dining center, the university emphasizes its goal of preparing students to wholeheartedly serve Christ with their lives.
“We have been blessed beyond measure, but our work is not done,” Falwell said. “We are firmly committed and dedicated to the original mission that (students) are going to come here to get a great education, they are going to get some great meals, they are going to attend some great athletic and recreational events. But above all else, we are committed to the fact that when they come here, they are going to become Champions for Christ in whatever field it is, to go out and reach the world with the (Gospel).”
Liberty Dining Services will host a grand opening event 11:30 a.m.–2:30 p.m. Aug. 23 featuring vendors and giveaways for students.