UConn mac and cheese incident spawns fundraisers

This undated photo provided by the University of Connecticut police department shows student Luke Gatti, 19, of Bayville, N.Y., who was arrested Oct. 4 following an altercation over purchasing macaroni and cheese at a market on the school's campus. (University of Connecticut Police Department via AP)

HARTFORD, Conn. — UConn students are trying to use an embarrassing video about macaroni and cheese to raise a little cheddar.

The video of a fellow student berating food service workers who refused to sell him jalapeno-bacon mac and cheese prompted a group of students to start an online fundraiser to give the beleaguered employees a well-deserved night out.

“A top-20 research university shouldn’t have to be redeeming its name after one bad egg goes and ruins our reputation,” said freshman Sadie Rumsey.

Rumsey and her friends set up a page on GoFundMe.com (https://www.gofundme.com/vs5yvngw) to show their support for the workers abused in the video captured inside the university’s student union last week. As of Sunday, the page had collected more than $1,300.

The 9-minute, obscenity-laced video clip posted online shows freshman Luke Gatti arguing with and eventually shoving Dave Robinson, a food service supervisor. Police and the manager said Gatti was refused service on Oct. 4 for carrying an open alcohol container.

The video, which became fodder for late-night talk show hosts, shows the 19-year-old questioning why in America he can’t have beer in the building. He uses a gay slur against Robinson and repeatedly demands, “Just give me some (expletive) bacon-jalapeno mac and cheese.”

After shoving Robinson, Gatti is tackled by another employee, is arrested by a police officer and spits at the manager before being led out of the building.

Gatti, of Bayville, New York, has not returned phone calls or an email seeking comment. He is due in court Tuesday on charges of breach of peace and criminal trespass.

Rumsey, 19, of Exeter, Rhode Island, said she is in discussions with the school about how to make sure the food service workers legally benefit from the donations. State law and UConn policies restrict workers from receiving gifts related to their employment.

There is another potential problem: The school confirmed Sunday that Robinson had already planned to move out of state and was working his final shift that night.

But university officials have been moved by the outpouring of support, said Stephanie Reitz, a school spokeswoman. They are discussing ways to do something special to recognize the dining services workers, “not just for the handling of this incident, but also for the ongoing hard work and great service they provide our students, employees and guests,” she said.

The school has also been contacted by three other groups, some from out of state, who inquired about fundraising campaigns, Reitz said.

Reitz said one of them is now working on a giant thank you card for the food service workers instead.

And a local franchise of the D.P. Dough restaurant chain has already donated $600 in proceeds to a children’s cancer charity after adding jalapeno to its bacon mac and cheese calzones.

The franchise owner, Cory Hill, said he went through 125 pounds of macaroni and cheese in the last week, compared to the normal 20 pounds.

“I felt a little weird profiting from this situation,” he said. “That’s when I decided to donate the proceeds to charity. We’re probably going to keep it going.”

Reitz said Gatti is still enrolled in the school, and federal law prohibits her from discussing his specific case, which could lead to a hearing and eventually expulsion.

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