Yale undergraduates have been helping prepare meals at the Downtown Evening Soup Kitchen for the past 16 years. But this fall, this volunteering tradition is changing in an effort to serve hungry New Haven residents more efficiently.

Now known as the Yale Hunger Heroes, a team of three student coordinators and more than 100 volunteers hopes to improve Yale’s contributions to the soup kitchen. The changes in the program, which first appeared last spring, are part of an initiative led by the Yale Hunger and Homelessness Action Project.

According to a report issued by DESK, the soup kitchen has been operating in New Haven for the past 20 years. In addition to bags of groceries and bag lunches for children, the soup kitchen serves approximately 150 nightly meals six times a week, two of which are run almost exclusively by Yale undergraduates.

The Friday meal, described by DESK Director Diana Richter as a “well-oiled machine,” consists of food prepared in Commons and residential college dining halls that students carry over to the United Parish Church to heat up and serve. The Sunday evening meal is served on campus at the Slifka Center. The kosher food served on Sundays is purchased by Slifka because DESK cannot afford the high costs of kosher meat, said Nicole Aaronson ’07, director of Hunger Heroes and a DESK board member.

“The soup kitchen helps me get perspective,” Aaronson said. “When I serve, I realize that I am privileged to be able to worry about Yale grades.”

Aaronson, who has been working with DESK at the Sunday meal since midway through her freshman year, said that until this year, the two meal programs were completely separate. Last year, the Friday meal was almost canceled because of a lack of organization and communication, said Julia Galeota ’09, Yale Hunger Heroes’ Friday evening coordinator. DESK directors chose Aaronson, Galeota and Sunday coordinator Eliza Schafler ’09 to create Hunger Heroes and revitalize the struggling program.

“I really liked that we were able to formalize it,” Aaronson said. “It was a really great feeling.”

Galeota said she hopes to have Friday meals up and running by the end of the month once some details regarding food preparation are worked out.

Another one of YHHAP’s new initiatives this semester is BRED, a program that brings leftover bread and dessert products from the dining halls to nearby homeless shelters and halfway houses. Although students have been doing this for the past three years, Elizabeth Calle ’08 said she hopes YHHAP’s involvement will bring more consistency to the program. Around 70 students have already offered their services this semester thanks mostly to an increased recruiting effort. BRED also hopes to collect food from 11 dining halls, up from its current six. The program should start its work the first week of October with a student covering each dining hall Monday through Friday.

In 2005, demand for meals at the soup kitchen doubled, so DESK is counting on Yale and area volunteers to help with its upcoming fundraising events. The organization has already held “Ride to End Hunger,” a motorcycle ride fundraiser that collected contributions through entry fees. Their next event is the “Cook and Care Walkathon” on Oct. 15.