Cole Addonizio

The proceeds from your late night snacks at a Yale college buttery may soon go toward helping local refugees.

The Yale Refugee Project’s employment team, which formed last semester, is testing out a new way to assist local refugees: selling snacks they make in commercially licensed kitchens to the college butteries. All of the money generated through these sales will go back to the refugees, according to Alessandro Luciano ’18, one of the project coordinators of the employment team, who described the project as “Snacktivism.”

Although the project is still in the works, trial runs have proven successful, Luciano said, making the team’s goal of officially launching the program in late March a realistic possibility.

“The mission is to basically empower and employ the refugees of New Haven by giving them a sustainable revenue stream that Yalies support and build the infrastructure for,” Luciano said.

The group hopes to partner with local businesses so that refugees can use their kitchens, and Yale volunteers will organize the transportation of goods from the kitchens to the butteries. As a result, the only projected cost is that of the required ingredients.

In its initial phase, the group is planning to team up with an Iraqi refugee, who is an unemployed mother of six, according to the group’s other coordinator, Caterina Passoni ’18. The woman currently lives on cash assistance and employment benefits, which together amount to just $700 a month, Passoni said. But if all 14 butteries implement the new program and sell 10 items every night for an average of $2 per item, she will bring in about $4,000 a month in revenue.

In fact, it is likely that more than 10 items will be sold each night. During a trial run in Saybrook on Feb. 22, the buttery sold 45 items, according to Luciano. Still, Passoni said, the team wants to keep its estimates conservative, because the refugee will lose her government benefits once the program officially launches.

“The point of YRP employment is to give refugees sustainable sources of income, not one gig that then never happens again,” Passoni said.

The Yale Refugee Project plans to hold additional trial runs this week in Saybrook and Pierson colleges.

The trial runs help the team gauge student interest and determine what types of food to sell — though group members are almost certain they will sell Middle Eastern finger food, including baklava, hummus and falafel, according to Passoni.

Benjamin Weiss ’20, who is a co-coordinator of the project, said the Saybrook trial run elicited “interest and excitement” and that students seemed to support the project, based on informal conversations and evaluation forms filled out by attendees.

Ry Walker ’20, a Saybrook student who attended the trial run, said she enjoyed the food and was pleased to support a program designed to assist New Haven residents.

“I mean first of all, the food is absolutely delicious,” Walker said. “It’s nice because the way it’s set up, it’s extremely easy for the normal buttery workers to warm and serve the food.”

Before its official launch, Luciano said, the project must meet some regulatory requirements — all food for sale must be cooked in a kitchen inspected by the city health department and the team must obtain licenses to use kitchen space. The Yale Refugee Project is collaborating with local restaurants and the Yale Law School to work out logistics and meet those requirements, Luciano added. And although some details of the project are yet to be ironed out, Luciano and Passoni said the program has been received positively by Yale administrators they have discussed plans with, including Pierson Head of College Stephen Davis.

“Yale’s support for this initiative would send a strong signal that it cares for the refugees of New Haven at a time when the issue of refugees is hotter than ever,” Luciano said.

Isabel Bysiewicz |