The homeless, the elderly, the chronic substance abuser — no matter their personal story, these people are in the same line for the same reason. It’s time for lunch at the New Haven Community Soup Kitchen.

The kitchen, which has been in operation since 1977, provided nearly 60,000 meals to New Haven residents in 2007 — a 12 percent increase from previous years, said David O’Sullivan, director of the New Haven Soup Kitchen, at a panel discussion held at the Medical School Wednesday evening. The panel was part of an 11-day series of events from Nov. 2 to Nov. 13 designed to raise awareness about hunger and homelessness, culminating in an auction. Last year, the week raised $30,000 for New Haven nonprofit organizations.

Despite the rise in overall meals the kitchen serves, its food contributions from Yale have dwindled in recent years as a result of Yale’s efforts to make its dining halls more efficient, O’Sullivan said.

“Certainly Yale could do more,” O’Sullivan said. “Many years ago, we used to get a lot more food from Yale dining halls.”

In addition, he said that one class at the Law School used to require its students to go into the community and donate legal aid, but those students hadn’t been seen at the soup kitchen in many years. The kitchen operates on a budget of $238,240, without the support of state or federal funds.

O’Sullivan said the soup kitchen’s population has changed markedly since he started working there in 1980. In 1980, O’Sullivan said, the population was composed of primarily white, alcoholic males. Now, he said, the influx of crack cocaine has contributed to a demographic shift.

“As time went on and crack and cocaine came into the population, we saw more black men … more young, white people and more of the Hispanic population,” O’Sullivan said.

Another panelist, Ron Dunhill, a registered nurse with the New Haven–based Hill Health Center, described his experiences locating the homeless in New Haven and encouraging them to accept help.

Dunhill, who was homeless himself for a period after he left home at age 13, said that despite what people may say, homelessness is never a choice.

“Nobody wants to be homeless,” he said. “It is the only route they have.”

The panelists also commended the success of Dwight Hall in getting students engaged in the community. About 50 students attended the discussion and Marie Rymut MED ’11, one of the event’s organizers, said that the turnout was better than expected. She said that it is difficult to draw students from the Yale medical community to events unless the speaker is famous.

The panel also included Mikki Meadows-Jones, an assistant professor in the School of Nursing, and Mike Jones, a volunteer at the soup kitchen. Jones, who was sporting a “Save Darfur” T-shirt, has lived on the streets and is currently in recovery from a crack cocaine addiction.

Students interviewed said they found the panel informative and the range of perspectives presented eye-opening.

“I felt the need to educate myself both about the situation of homeless people in New Haven and what kinds of resources are available to them,” Jordan Sloshower MED ’12 said. “The panel was a nice range of people who are actually working on the street level.”