Hedy Tung, Contributing Photographer

Five times a week, students have carried trays of extra food from residential college dining halls to the Downtown Evening Soup Kitchen, making the trip by foot. 

The volunteers, who are part of the Kitchen to Kitchen, or K2K, initiative of the Yale Hunger and Homelessness Action Project, used to drive a designated Dwight Hall car to transport hot food from the dining halls that otherwise would have gone to waste. But when they lost vehicle access this semester, they had to walk instead — which means that donated meals have been largely scaled back to nonperishable food, given the risks of carrying food in the open during the pandemic. And their efforts are further restricted by the limited catering options now served by the dining halls. 

Despite these setbacks, several YHHAP-affiliated individuals and groups — K2K, the Yale Community Kitchen and others — continue to respond to need in the Elm City.

“There is an increased need for food from soup kitchens, and it’s great we’re able to do anything at all,” said Edie Abraham-Macht ’22, one of K2K’s student directors, adding that delivering food by foot is “more challenging to navigate.”

Although most Dwight Hall organizations have gone remote this semester, the several YHHAP-affiliated projects with in-person components have been forced to reconfigure their strategy to respond to pandemic-era setbacks. 

Masks and meals without wheels

K2K has introduced new food safety and sanitization training for its volunteers — who are gloved, masked and socially distanced when they make their weekly runs — in an effort to normalize its operations to support Downtown Evening Soup Kitchen, or DESK, which is located on Temple Street, a block away from Timothy Dwight College. 

According to Dwight Hall Executive Director Peter Crumlish, K2K’s car was donated by Yale Fleet Management years ago and had a number of mechanical problems that kept it off the road in recent months. Another vehicle donated by Fleet Management is currently being serviced, after which it will be delivered to Dwight Hall.

“Dwight Hall strongly discourages in-person volunteer service during the pandemic, especially as we enter a very perilous season as cases of COVID-19 continue to rise in New Haven,” Crumlish wrote in an email to the News. “YHHAP was required to prepare a plan for how Kitchen to Kitchen could resume its food rescue service in a ‘contact-less’ way and in accordance with the health and safety practices of their community partner.”

Yale Community Kitchen, or YCK, is made up of another team of YHHAP volunteers and serves food donated by Yale Dining on weekends in DESK’s distributing site, United Parish House, which is right next to DESK’s main headquarters.

In previous semesters, YCK volunteers had also borrowed the Dwight Hall car in order to bring food from the dining halls to the community kitchen. 

“Losing access to a car means we no longer have reliable access to groceries or the dining hall,” said student coordinator Justin Nguyen ’22. “We are constantly asking our volunteers to drive us.”

But when no car is available, Nguyen explains that volunteers use carts to walk food from Steep Café on Science Hill and the residential college dining halls to the kitchen.

“It is wasted hours of time and effort that could be used to better serve our guests,” he said.

Without a car, the team has also lost access to the “hot boxes” that would keep food warm, meaning that the food they serve is often cold by the time it reaches guests.

To avoid lines and large public gatherings, Nguyen said that four to five student volunteers prepare and package rescued food and distribute to-go containers outside while wearing masks and maintaining distance. 

A fast, a food drive and a look to the future

Though their model has worked thus far, the months ahead — as the temperature drops — worry Nguyen. To accommodate the early and extended break, YCK will be serving through the break as their funds and supplies allow, with the intention of providing uninterrupted service into the next semester. 

Still, interest among student volunteers has remained high. The YCK and K2K have not faced shortages in volunteers this term, Nguyen and Abraham-Macht said. 

One of the most well-known YHHAP campaigns, the biannual fast, has been canceled this semester. 

During traditional YHHAP fasts, students can donate a portion of the value of their meal swipes on one select day every semester to New Haven organizations that combat homelessness. Participating students would instead opt to use their guest swipes in dining halls or eat out at local New Haven restaurants. Last fall, 1,818 meal swipes were donated in total, translating into more than $13,500.

Up until last week, the board had been tentatively moving forward with a fall YHHAP fast, scheduled the week before students leave campus for November break. However, after a COVID-19 outbreak of 20 cases was reported at Yale last week, YHHAP fast coordinator Monika Krasniqi ’23 said that the organization’s board immediately knew that a YHHAP fast like those of previous years was off the table.

Instead, YHHAP is kickstarting a Venmo-based fundraiser from this Friday, Nov. 13, to next Friday, with proceeds benefiting four New Haven nonprofits and mutual aid organizations: DESK, HOPE Family Justice Center, the Semilla Collective and the New Haven Housing Fund. 

A similar YHHAP Venmo fundraiser held last spring after students left campus because of the pandemic raised $28,173 in total after a number of student organizations with unused club funding were able to match individual donations. YHHAP organizers do not have a fundraising goal set for next week’s event. 

“It’s so hard to gauge [how much we will raise], especially because student organizations do not have leftover funding,” Krasniqi said. “The same need is still there as last semester, but fundraising will be tougher.”

As students prepare to depart campus for November break, another team of student organizers, in partnership with the Yale College Council and YHHAP, is putting together a residential college food drive next week. Donation bins — where students are encouraged to donate nonperishable and unexpired foods, disposable utensils, travel size toiletries and reusable shopping bags — will be placed in each residential college starting Saturday. 

David Foster ’24, one of the food drive’s primary organizers, explained that students frequently have excess food in their dorms at the end of the semester, which tends to go to waste if it is not donated.

“The goal is to create a culture and infrastructure around having drives on campus,” Foster said. “For all the pain most of us are going through, [COVID] is far more difficult for those experiencing homelessness, and we should help however we can.”

YHHAP was founded in 1974.

Emily Tian | emily.tian@yale.edu