TURLOCK — The shelves were nearly bare Wednesday afternoon at Pop's Convenience Store at California State University, Stanislaus. Among the few items were loaves of bread, cans of condensed tomato soup and packages of muffin mix.
"It looks like the Soviet Union right before the (Berlin) Wall fell," said graduate student Andrew Janz, a past student body president.
Students say food service provider Sodexo, which runs all food services on campus until June 30, hasn't fully stocked Pop's shelves for a month.
Student Body President Diana Heredia said she couldn't find nachos a month ago when she visited the campus's only convenience store. She said other popular food, such as candy bars, has been noticeably absent.
Sodexo, based in Gaithersburg, Md., lost out on a new 10-year contract after running food services at CSU, Stanislaus, for more than 40 years. It will be replaced by Charlotte, N.C.-based Chartwells this summer.
Heredia said students who live on campus have about $30,000 left on their meal plan accounts, which must be used by this week, according to university officials.
The money in the meal plans can be spent only at food service operations run by Sodexo.
Heredia said Sodexo generally allows students to put in special food orders to burn up the balances on their meal plans but kept telling students the deadline had passed for those orders.
"Students are complaining, and I don't blame them," she said. "I can already hear it — parents calling up upset because all this money is on the cards and (students) can't spend it."
The problem does not apply to the prepaid spending accounts known as Warrior Cash. The cash balances on identification cards issued by the university, called Warrior Cards, rolls over.
University spokeswoman Kristin Olsen said Sodexo has agreed to limit the amount in forfeitures to last year's amount — $16,000. Housing officials will develop a plan to help students recoup some of their losses, Olsen said.
She said it's common for students to end the school year with balances on their meal plan accounts, which is money Sodexo keeps. That's a common practice with contracts with food service vendors, she added.
But Olsen said the university requested several times that Pop's be fully stocked.
"This year, Sodexo's efforts to stock and restock haven't been the same," Olsen said.
In an e-mail, a Sodexo official said Pop's had extended its operation for two more days until today to help students spend down their meal plan balances. Monica Zimmer also wrote that Sodexo posted signs at all of its campus operations reminding students to spend down the balances on their meal plan accounts and allowed students to place special orders to deplete their balances.
The meal plans can be used at the university's main dining hall, so Janz said students with balances have been offering to buy lunches for passers-by.
Sodexo made the news early last year, when the university said an unsecure computer server owned by Sodexo led to thousands of dollars worth of fraudulent charges.
Sodexo officials denied that claim, but the university added new safety requirements to Sodexo's contract before it would allow the food service company to process bank and credit card charges, Olsen said.
Bee staff writer Merrill Balassone can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 578-2337.