With the addition of Durfee’s Sweet Shop to a list of merchants selling vouchers, New Haven Cares, a community-based organization affiliated with Dwight Hall, aims to include more undergraduates in helping the homeless.

The vouchers cost 50 cents each and cannot be redeemed for alcohol, tobacco, lottery tickets or cash. In addition to giving them directly to homeless people, those who purchase the vouchers can also place them in a box in front of Dwight Hall for the clients of a social service organization. Vouchers can be redeemed at Shaw’s, Goodwill, some pharmacies and other stores. The vouchers can also be used for fare on Connecticut Transit buses.

Patricia Benedict, a consultant for New Haven Cares, said the program has changed direction in the last four years. It started in 1993 as a collaboration of Yale Law School students, local merchants, community organizations and homeless people. Merchants were especially interested in curtailing the amount of aggressive panhandling in front of their stores and agreed to sell the vouchers, Benedict said.

Now the program donates vouchers to approximately 30 community organizations, Benedict said. New Haven Cares also distributes vouchers to such stores as Book Haven, Store 24 and most recently, Durfee’s. These stores can then sell the vouchers to the public.

Sarah Sherblom ’04, executive director of New Haven Cares, said around 75 percent of the vouchers are redeemed at Shaw’s. The second most popular use, she said, is trading them in for a ride on Connecticut Transit.

Sherblom said the addition of Durfee’s to the list of voucher distributors is part of a drive toward increased undergraduate participation in the program. She said Durfee’s will be particularly important to the program because of its centrality in undergraduate life.

“It’s just to make [donating to the homeless] more of a daily habit than once a year,” Sherblom said. “I want people to be aware of the problem, and I want people to know they can do something about it.”

In the spring of 2001, Freshman Class Council representatives, in conjunction with Yale Hunger and Homelessness Action Program, sold $1,100 worth of New Haven Cares vouchers to undergraduates in dining halls, Sherblom said.

Maria Stiles, an employee at Durfee’s, said the program has seen little response so far. She said that since the vouchers arrived in the store before Christmas break, Durfee’s has sold only around 14. Stiles attributed the poor response to a lack of advertising.

Becky Feinberg said Book Haven, where she serves as manager, has been selling vouchers during her entire two and a half year tenure. About once a month, a person buys vouchers at Book Haven in bulk, she said, adding that most of these purchasers are probably not undergraduates.

“I feel like very few people know [the program] exists,” Feinberg said.

Feinberg said she likes the program because it allows people to be certain their donations will serve charitable purposes. She said she sold $25 worth of vouchers approximately three days ago.

“A lot of people asking you for handouts don’t want what you assume they want,” Feinberg said.

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