Georgia Southern University's residential Statesboro and Armstrong campuses didn't completely close with the approach of Hurricane Michael. In fact, students were encouraged to remain on campus to weather the storm. But some special arrangements were made for feeding them.
Three first-year students, all residents of the Southern Pines residential complex, shared a small table at the end of the regular lunch service in the Dining Commons on the Statesboro campus. They were well positioned to be among the first in line for the bag of sandwiches, fruit and snacks, meant to be each student's provisions for dinner Wednesday and breakfast and lunch Thursday. All planned to stay in the dorm for the duration.
"But I'm from Charleston. I've never evacuated during a hurricane," said Mary Beth Noble, 18.
She was in South Carolina for the effects there of Hurricane Matthew in 2016 and Tropical Storm Irma last year.
Like other students in the little group, Noble hoped that the bagged rations distributed by the university food service to students with meal plans would not actually be her only sustenance through Thursday.
"I have pizza rolls, and hopefully we don't lose power," she said.
"I'm just hoping that this gets a lot weaker, and just hope for the best," said Derick Luiggi, also 18, from Warner Robins, where he saw a little of Irma's effects.
"We are on floor three, so if the hurricane does come, we have to go to floor one and hope for the best, I guess," said Marcello Gonzalez, 18, from Stockbridge.
He also had other food back at the dorm but wouldn't be able to prepare it if the power went out, he said.
After offering regular service but a limited menu from 7 a.m. until 2 p.m. Wednesday, the Dining Commons on the Statesboro Campus and The Galley on the Armstrong Campus in Savannah distributed the food bags to students with dining plans between 2 p.m. and 3 p.m. Wednesday.
"Obviously students on dining plans, students that are here, we have an obligation to take care of them and we want to be able to provide them with nourishment when they're unable to get here or when we're unable to get here and to provide a normal service," said Jeff Yawn, Eagle Dining Services executive director.
The food service will return to normal operations when university administration and public safety officials give the go-ahead.
"Our goal will be to reopen as soon as conditions allow us to do so, but this food will allow them to have nourishment through that period of challenge and trial," Yawn said.
Each of the bags contained two sandwiches, one meant for dinner and one for Thursday's lunch; two snacks, which included fresh apples, oranges, bananas and muffins; and for breakfast, a Pop Tart-type pastry and a granola bar.
"So you have nutritious" but also something for "a sweet tooth," said Dining Commons Executive Chef Jerry Bradley.
Each student also received a bottled water and a container of juice.
Not all Georgia Southern students buy meal plans, but about 6,000 have them on the Statesboro and Armstrong campuses. Bradley said turnout for the regular meals at the Statesboro campus Dining Commons through lunch Wednesday appeared to be about 90 percent of normal. But the smaller Lakeside dining facility was closed.
With tropical storm-force winds predicted throughout the region, Georgia Southern officials had acted Tuesday to cancel all classes and scheduled activities on all three campuses Wednesday and Thursday.
"We have housing staff there. The residential halls are still open," said Jennifer Wise, the university's director of communications. "So students are encouraged to stay in place and not travel unnecessarily."
Only "essential personnel" were to report to work Wednesday and Thursday, Georgia Southern's notice on its webpage and alert network stated. These personnel know in advance who they are. But employees of the Office of Public Safety, which includes the university's police force and its own emergency management director, were included, as well as housing staff and on Wednesday, food service employees.
But the Health Services clinics on the Statesboro and Armstrong campuses were to be closed both days. A link on the university's alert web page, www.georgiasouthern.edu/alert, instead directed students to nearby urgent care facilities serving the general public, including for the Statesboro campus, the South Georgia Intermediate Care Center on Bermuda Run Road, Apple Care on Brannen Street and East Georgia Regional Medical Center on Fair Road.
In the event of power failures from regular utility lines, the Centennial Place residential complex has generators to provide emergency lighting and fire alarm protection, and all other residence halls have battery backup, also for emergency lighting and fire alarms only, Wise said.
Soon after the take-home meal distribution started, the line of students wound through the commons, out the doors and far between other buildings.
Lauren Hale, 20, a sophomore from Milledgeville, said from the weight of the food bag she received it seemed like enough for three meals.
The rest of her plan for weathering the storm back at Freedom's Landing was "just to stay inside, stay away from windows if it gets too rough and just stay safe."
Herald reporter Al Hackle may be reached at (912) 489-9458.