While helping the homeless and the hungry is a noble endeavor, the methodology exercised by the Yale Hunger and Homelessness Action Project for this purpose is misleading. During YHHAP sign-ups, members encourage you to “donate your meal plan to YHHAP and help raise money for local and national hunger and homelessness charities.”
The same information can be read on the YHHAP table tents. Both sources, however, neglect to mention that only a fraction of the money from the meal plan actually goes to the charity, while the rest of it covers the dining hall’s overhead expenses.
Many students are under the impression that all of the money they give goes to help the needy. Students can also choose to bursar bill donations instead of giving up their meals. YHHAP does not do enough to stress the economic superiority of this option.
Using figures from last semester, here’s the breakdown for how much money from each meal plan actually goes to YHHAP: Full – $5.39, 14 FLEX – $5.39, 10 – $4.80, HGS 12 – $5.05. All these amounts are substantially lower than what the student is actually giving up.
For example, a student pays about $17 a day if she purchases breakfast, lunch and dinner from the dining halls. YHHAP receives about 31 percent of that figure.
I e-mailed Benita Singh last fall, who was then one of YHHAP’s student volunteers and is now a co-coordinator, asking the following simple question: “How much money actually goes directly to the hungry and the homeless? Do you have exact figures?”
To this she replied: “All of the money goes directly to local soup kitchens and food pantries.”
I do not know which would be more disturbing: that Benita misled me or that a YHHAP volunteer had no idea what was going on in her organization.
Upon receiving clearer information from then YHHAP treasurer, Susannah Camic, I asked her why YHHAP does not disclose this information to students signing up for the fast. She sent me an explanation written by Lindsay Stradley, another YHHAP coordinator, who said that even though YHHAP gets more money from direct donations, having to alter your schedule for a day makes you think about the charity and gives a “sense of community” to all those who give up their meal plans.
If this is the reasoning behind keeping this information from the public, I am even more disturbed by the operation. YHHAP does not have a right to make moral decisions for other people, especially for those who honestly believe they are making large donations to charity. While YHHAP does not prevent the public from having access to its figures, it is certainly guilty of misleading the students that sign up. When I hear or read the plea “donate your meal plan to YHHAP,” I should have the full confidence that my meal plan is, in fact, donated to YHHAP.
From an economic perspective, a student on the full meal plan who cares about his wallet should steer away from surrendering his meals. The math is simple: $17 will have already been spent, and subsequently relinquished to the fast effort. Add to that approximately $3.00 for breakfast, $5.00 for lunch and $7.00 for dinner purchased in New Haven restaurants. Of the roughly $32.00 spent on the day of the fast, only $5.39 (or 17 percent) will actually go to charity. If I wanted to help the homeless and hungry, I would keep my meals and bursar-bill $5.39 for a grand total of $22.39 for that day.
I was disappointed but not surprised that the YHHAP coordinators I spoke to did not acknowledge the obvious reason for not disclosing this information to students: if people knew how little they were actually giving to charity they would be discouraged from donating. Sorry YHHAP, but that decision is ours to make, not yours.
The integrity of YHHAP is questionable. To remedy this, the organization needs to educate its members, voluntarily provide information about how donation money is handled, encourage students to use the bursar bill option, and try to get a more substantial share of each student’s donation.
Ishai Eshkol is a senior in Timothy Dwight College.