In my senior year of high school, I interviewed Anya, a young Hispanic woman who could not afford to buy Christmas presents for her children. In tear-choked Spanish, she told me how hard, how shameful it was to be too poor to provide just one toy for each of her two children. I recorded the moment in a radio booth, the soundproofed walls and expensive microphone rendering her sobs, the tremble of her voice, in perfect detail. I listen to that clip sometimes when I feel exhausted by my work or frustrated by my obligations. I listen to it over and over until I want only one thing: to go back in time and give Anya’s children the Christmas presents she was unable provide.
In the years since, I have worked with dozens of people in situations similar to or worse than Anya’s. I have taken classes that examine poverty from a dozen different angles and read political science briefs that dissect the breadth, depth and diversity of the poor in a myriad of ways. Yet my emotional understanding of poverty stops with her.
Although it breaks my heart, I somewhat can grasp what Anya must have felt that Christmas morning because the fundamentals of her life are similar to my own. She and her family woke up in a house that morning. Although there were no gifts, there was likely breakfast. It is when the food is taken off the table and the roof removed that I stop being able to imagine the scene. I cannot conceive of an America in which children go to bed hungry. I don’t know what a family looks like when it is split, husband from wife and children, in separate, steel-bedded homeless shelters. Even more unimaginable are the many citizens who die unsheltered and unrecognized on the streets of New Haven each winter.
Because I cannot accept situations like these, I became involved with the Yale Hunger and Homelessness Action Project (YHHAP). Through 18 service and board projects, YHHAP works to keep children fed, families in their homes and residents off the streets. Every day, students in YHHAP are out on the streets, in soup kitchens, at City Hall and at shelters working tirelessly to feed, house and help fellow members of the New Haven community.
We couldn’t do it without your help. Over the past two years, YHHAP has donated more than $75,000 to New Haven organizations, and the vast majority of that money comes from the meal swipes you donate each semester to the YHHAP Fast. The money you donate is split between three New Haven housing nonprofits that run the Homelessness Prevention and Rapid Re-Housing Program (HPRP).
HPRP is a former government fund that distributes emergency grants to keep families and individuals who would otherwise become homeless in their homes. This program is YHHAP’s program of choice because the psychological, logistical and physical effects of eviction, and even one night of homelessness, can be insurmountable. Thanks to your generosity, YHHAP has been able to prevent more than 50 households from becoming homeless. This is huge.
The YHHAP Fast is coming up this Friday, April 10. Once again, YHHAP will be raising money to donate to HPRP programs and working hard to keep fellow community members housed. I hope you will join me in donating your meal swipes and participating in a campuswide effort to make New Haven a more equal and more just place, where no one is forced to experience homelessness.
I will be donating my swipe for Anya, and for the chance to move one step closer to aligning the harsh and sobering realities of our disparate and often-poor country with an America that I can understand and believe in. My swipe may only be worth $7.50, but that’s the cost of a Christmas present.
Zana Davey is a sophomore in Berkeley College. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org .