Campus closed, hearts open: EHL community’s response to the COVID crisis

Stéphanie Grawehr
Stéphanie Grawehr June 16, 2020

When the COVID confinement was first announced, the hospitality management school, Ecole hôtelière de Lausanne (EHL), shifted to remote learning in line with the authorities’ recommendations and to ensure the safety of its over 3,000 students and 500 staff, closing its three campuses. Among other key events, the school had planned its second annual Sustainability Week which would have gathered many key players such as local producers and startups, but this would not take place as planned.

With students and staff at home, remote classes ongoing, and needs of the community changing due to COVID, Associate Director and Head of Sustainability Noémie Danthine had to adapt. This was a time to assure safety, but also, solidarity.

“While the situation has been changing quickly in the past couple of months, one thing has become clear. The EHL community and our core value of “Family” has never shone brighter,” said Noémie.

EHL’s first solidarity initiatives included helping one of the hardest hit sectors, and its own, the hospitality industry, sharing its knowledge to help struggling hotel properties through a free management course for hoteliers and pro bono consulting activities offered to national and international companies from 24 countries. In-kind donations of 100,000 masks to local hospitals and the distribution of food products for the Hotel de l’Union (a local nonprofit) were also made. From there, other meaningful initiatives have been launched:

  • Fundraising to support nonprofits’ COVID relief efforts, such as Medair;
  • Initiatives within the EHL community, such as students helping each other with homework or sharing tips on how to study remotely;
  • A dozen virtual skills-based volunteering missions, helping nonprofits with their translations and social media;
  • A hackathon to define the social media strategy for local nonprofit The Hunger Project;
  • EHL Lausanne’s management forwent 10 to 20% of their salary for a trimester to alleviate financial strain and ensure all salary payments at 100%;
  • And the creation of a 1 million Swiss francs COVID solidarity fund to support students facing financial difficulties.

The crisis has affected many, in particular, people who were already in disadvantaged situations pre-crisis.

Notably, the Mère Sofia Foundation, a nonprofit organization helping the most vulnerable populations in the Lausanne region, was in need of volunteers. One of their structures, local soup kitchen the “Soupe Populaire”, provides meals to all without discrimination, usually around 250 meals per day. Given the situation, they more than doubled their daily meal distribution, and extended their distribution from just dinner with an additional lunch service to meet the needs of their beneficiaries. In light of this increased demand, they needed more volunteers to keep up the pace.

The match was instant. During the month of May, a team of EHL’s culinary arts teachers volunteered to share their skills: Twice a week, they would run the Soupe Populaire’s kitchen, ensuring the delivery of the required meals for the day. They were also joined by students and staff who acted as “commis” to prepare the vegetables, clean the workspace, and wash up.

“Supporting the Mère Sofia Foundation during the month of May has been a very enriching experience that reminded me that empathy, care and community are at the heart of our industry.” – Fabien Pairon, Meilleur Ouvrier de France and Senior Lecturer Practical Arts at EHL.

“Supporting the Mère Sofia Foundation during the month of May has been a very enriching experience that reminded me that empathy, care and community are at the heart of our industry. All my colleagues and I took great pleasure in giving to others especially in those difficult times. Cooking is not only about feeding people, it is about bringing different people together and it allows unforgettable moments of sharing!” said Fabien Pairon, Meilleur Ouvrier de France and Senior Lecturer Practical Arts at EHL.

“Not only did the EHL volunteers satisfy the appetite, they brought real comfort to the beneficiaries they fed. It was great. Thank you so much.” – Véronique Eichenberger, Deputy Director of the Foundation.

“EHL’s support has been immensely valuable during the height of the health crisis we have just gone through. During the crisis, the Mère Sofia foundation, and in particular, the Soupe Populaire, produced and served between 700 and 900 meals every day. At lunch and dinner, they provided all the emergency lodgings in the greater Lausanne area: the Repit, the sleep’in, the Etape, the Bugnon, and the BAP. Without the support of EHL volunteers, who were highly efficient and often over-qualified teams, we would never have been able to meet these commitments. But this does not account for the totality of the services rendered because, on top of that, the meals were always so tasty!!! Not only did the EHL volunteers satisfy the appetite, they brought real comfort to the beneficiaries they fed. It was great. Thank you so much. THANK YOU 🙂 “, said Véronique Eichenberger, Deputy Director of the Foundation.

“Alaya has enabled the EHL community to participate in initiatives they hold dear. The platform has greatly facilitated the access and the organization with the different associations our staff wanted to help.” – Noémie Danthine, Associate Director and Head of Sustainability

“Alaya has enabled the EHL community to participate in initiatives they hold dear. The platform has greatly facilitated the access and the organization with the different associations our staff wanted to help. While we had to postpone our dedicated Sustainability Week, now countless initiatives have sprung up during this period. It’s about caring for each other and contributing to our communities. While the situation is difficult and in an ideal world, there wouldn’t be this need, we’re proud of how our students and staff are helping out in the community,” shared Noémie.

In the month of May, EHL students and staff volunteered over 270 hours in support of causes to alleviate hunger and poverty. This is just the beginning of this collaboration, as EHL will continue supporting the Mère Sofia Foundation in the months to come.

To learn more about how Alaya supports companies to develop and elevate their volunteering and giving programs, contact us.

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