Over the past two weeks, we sat in your dining halls, knocked on your doors, and delivered you neon stickers. We recruited you as students, as residential college members, as New Haven residents. And, again and again, we asked you a question: “Have you signed up for the YHHAP Fast?”
It is an $11,000 question. That’s about how much the Yale Hunger and Homelessness Action Project raises when you commit during the Fast to donate some of your resources to fight hunger and homelessness in New Haven. And since 1974, we – that is, you – have said yes to that question, raising money for dozens of non-profits and making an enormous impact. Today, around 30% of Yale College will band together to combat budget cuts at New Haven shelters for women and children.
A fundraiser large enough to involve the entire student body should attract curiosity, and we welcome your feedback. However, we wish to clear up a few misconceptions. Yesterday, as many of you saw, the News published a column questioning how Fast donations are apportioned (“A more transparent fast,” Oct. 20). Sergio Zenisek ’11 pointed out that the daily cost of the meal plan exceeds the amount of money donated per Fast participant and suggested that Yale Dining Services is profiting from the difference. Finally, he called on YHHAP to be more transparent with regards to this issue.
While unfortunately this conversation came too late to affect your decision whether or not to participate, we do want to set the record straight: The claim that Yale Dining “comes out ahead” from the Fast is untrue. The portion of your day’s meal plan that is not donated to YHHAP covers the fixed costs of Yale Dining, costs it incurs regardless of how many students forfeit their meals. It goes — in large part — toward the salaries of the men and women who cook and serve food in the dining halls, who must report to work today to serve those students who do not participate in the Fast. Donating a larger percentage of students’ meal plans to homelessness in New Haven would amount to a pay cut for everyone who works in the dining system.
YHHAP’s volunteers and website — as well as the SIS opt-in page — are clear on this point: only the food expenses from your meal plan are donated to the cause. In the interest of full disclosure, here are the precise numbers from last spring’s Fast. For every participant on the 21-meal plan, signing up for the Fast donates $7.50; for those on the 14-meal plan, $6.30; for the 10-meal plan, $3.05. But these donations add up. When 1,637 students participated last spring, we raised $11,860.60 — all of which went to those in need.
No fundraiser is perfect. For some of you, we might be better off simply soliciting cash donations. Every volunteer who tables for the Fast is equipped to accept such donations. But we know from experience that, if we ran a cash-only fundraiser, we would raise only a fraction of what the Fast does, and we would lose the power of a campus-wide expression of support for New Haven’s homeless.
For us, the Fast is not about how much money we would raise in an ideal world, but how much good we can and will do in this one. $7.50 might not sound like very much. But when over 1,500 of us donate together, we can provide winter shelter beds for over 100 homeless men as we did last fall; we can help formerly incarcerated individuals find jobs and get their lives back on track as we did in the spring; and we can make sure that New Haven’s family shelters have the funding to guide their clients into permanent housing and out of the shelter system, as we are today. For goals like those, a day’s meal swipes are a small price to pay.
Jessica Cole, Jennifer Friedmann and Gabriel Zucker are board members of the Yale Hunger and Homelessness Action Project.