On a recent day, Rachel Rutherford needed milk and eggs.
Like most people, she could have gone to the grocery store to get what she needed. Instead, she decided to support DigiPen Institute of Technology in Redmond — where she is a senior lecturer and team specialist in game software design and production — and order her groceries from DragonDrop.
The new delivery service was started in response to the COVID-19 outbreak during which schools, including DigiPen, moved to remote learning. DragonDrop is a way to serve the school’s community and provide people with a hot meal and groceries if and when they need them.
Alex Comair, director of operations at DigiPen, said the idea initially started with offering people hot pizza, but they soon added other hot food as well as groceries to the service.
Describing the launch as an “all hands on deck” situation, Comair said once they got the idea of providing food delivery services to their community, they were able to throw it all together over the course of a weekend. DragonDrop launched the evening of March 30.
Things blew up that first night and they received “well over 50 orders in just one day,” Comair said.
A surreal but friendly experience
Rutherford learned about DragonDrop after Comair posted on the school’s student Facebook page. She said she also received an internal email about the service.
“I decided to order from DragonDrop to support the college, try out the service and experience what the students were experiencing,” she said.
Rutherford ordered cereal, apples, chocolates, sanitizing wipes and toilet paper, in addition to the milk and eggs she needed.
“It was surreal — as is this entire COVID-19 experience — but friendly,” she said about her experience with DragonDrop. “Melvin Gonsalvez, our senior vice president of facilities, was helping with deliveries that day. He called and said he would stop by in 10 minutes and that he was bringing a cart in case I needed it. Ten minutes later, there he was. It was as if a friendly elf of DigiPen had reached out to smile, say ‘hello,’ drop off two small neatly labeled sacks and some toilet paper, grin, wave and vanish.”
New items every day
In addition to pizza, DigiPen offers daily hot food specials for $6.50, including housemade chicken bakes. Students and staff can also order beverages and snacks to accompany their order.
When it comes to groceries, Comair said they are offering basics such as milk (half gallons) and eggs and they are adding more items every day. He said they order the items from their usual suppliers that help stock the school’s student store. It has just been a matter of upping the orders of some of the items they usually carry as well as adding items they haven’t typically carried as the shop had previously functioned more as a convenient store. But now, Comair said, they are trying to provide people with healthy options and essential staples. For example, the DigiPen student store now carries organic apples, which it hadn’t previously.
Comair said people can also order art and school supplies, wellness products and home products.
“We’re just trying to do our part and get other people to stay at home,” he said.
Comair added that currently, DragonDrop is only open to DigiPen students and staff within a two-mile radius of the campus, which includes parts of Redmond as well as Kirkland. This covers about two-thirds of their students, including all of those living in school housing. He said they may expand their geographical radius and include the greater community if things go well.
Deliveries from a safe distance
There are six DragonDrop staff members — who are all full-time DigiPen employees and part of either the school’s food services or shuttle services departments — who are working onsite. Comair is the seventh team member and mostly works remotely.
Those who are onsite are taking measures to keep themselves and their customers safe and healthy.
Comair described the DigiPen kitchen as a cautious one “on a normal day” but now surfaces are sanitized much more often and they have a staff member solely devoted to sanitizing. He said any staff member who is sick with any sort of illness must stay home; staff members must also stay home if anyone in their household is sick. DigiPen has a thermal screening device on campus and all staff are regularly scanned for elevated temperatures.
DragonDrop staff also wash their hands often, use gloves and are told to not touch their faces or cell phones. All employees, including delivery drivers, are stocked with handwashing and sanitizing products as well as gloves.
They also practice social distancing.
When deliveries are made, Comair said staff make sure to stay at least 10 feet from the customer, placing pizza and hot food deliveries on the hood of the vehicle for customers to pick up themselves. Similar measures are taken for grocery deliveries so drivers and customers can maintain that 10-foot distance.
“We don’t do any type of [close] hand offs,” Comair said.
DragonDrop offers daily grocery drops, Monday through Friday. Orders must be placed by 2 p.m. and deliveries are made between 5 p.m. and 7 p.m. that same day. For hot food, orders must be placed between 11:30 a.m. and 4:30 p.m. on weekdays and should arrive within 45 minutes. Payments can be made with a credit or debit card or with a DigiPen meal card.
Comair said one of the requirements they had when they were developing DragonDrop was that if they were going to provide any sort of food service, students would need to be able to use their meal cards.
On campus if needed
DigiPen’s enrollment for this year is 1,102 students. The school has been doing remote learning since March 9, with 417 classes are being taught remotely this semester.
“We were advised to leave our facilities open for use,” Comair said about how the school worked with the state on what actions they should take to keep people safe while still serving their students.
Although the campus is still open in case students need to use any onsite equipment, Comair said not many people are coming onto campus. But if they did, he said they would still be able to purchase a hot meal or shop at the student store if needed.
DigiPen will continue remote learning the rest of this semester as well as through its summer term, Comair said.
A ‘compass to follow’
With most students and staff learning and working remotely, Comair said DragonDrop is about providing more for the community. They had the tools on hand to provide a delivery service, so that’s what they did.
Comair said for DigiPen staff, their main focus is to put their students first and try to do what is best for their students. When they do that, he said, everything else tends to fall into place.
Although a global pandemic was not something they trained for, Comair said putting their students first is a good “compass to follow.”
“If we follow that, it’ll probably be ok,” he said.
Rutherford also touched on the school’s focus on its students, pointing to other ways the school is working to support its students. For example, she said, students now have an option to extend their lease through the summer at discounted rates, whether they are enrolled or not, if it would help them.
She said DragonDrop is a practical focus on the students and said she is incredibly proud of the school for offering it.
“Change is stress,” Rutherford said. “This is a time of great change, uncertainty and unknowns. Our students work incredibly hard, so to have a familiar face show up at their doorstep with groceries and supplies is not only useful, but stress relieving…In fact, the home delivery service is actually a ‘leveling up,’ as we say in game development — where life unexpectedly gets better. It helps that things are sold in quantities and prices students can afford.”