David Zheng, Senior Photographer

On Nov. 18, students can convert their meal swipes into tangible funds that will be donated to local organizations aiding New Haven’s underprivileged communities.

The Yale Hunger and Homelessness Action Project is a student-run organization that seeks to “alleviate housing and food insecurity in New Haven” through advocacy, volunteer and fundraising efforts such as its biannual fast. Between today and Nov. 17, Yale College students will be able to log into their SIS account and opt-in to waive all their meal swipes for the day of Nov. 18. In collaboration with Yale Hospitality, the meal swipes will then be donated as a monetary amount to YHHAP who will distribute the funding to four local organizations. 

“Over 50 percent of our student population has historically given up their swipes for this one day and it’s pretty incredible,” said YHHAP fast co-coordinator Jocelyn Ra ’22. 

YHHAP negotiates with the University to be reimbursed a portion of the amount the meal swipes are worth. Given inflation and the rise of food costs, Ra told the News that the group is still negotiating with the University to increase the tangible funds given back to “increase the scale of impact that Yale students can have.”

Numerous restaurants and local businesses will support the fast by offering discounts to participating students on Nov. 18 or partial donations from sales to YHHAP. Yorkside Pizza and Claire’s Corner Copia will be donating directly to YHHAP. Garden Catering will donate 25 percent of all orders using code YHHAP22. Sherkaan will give students a 15 percent discount. 

“Since students forgo their dining hall meals, they are strongly encouraged to support local businesses by eating out at a locally-owned restaurant in New Haven,” wrote Joanna Chen ’25, the YHHAP treasurer.

Student organizations and residential colleges are also encouraged to contribute to the fast by offering members incentives to participate, organizing events involving meals on the day of or contributing a monetary donation, according to Ra. 

This past spring, the fast raised $12,009.39 which was donated to three separate organizations. This was a decrease from the previous fall when the fast raised $13,860.52 which was divided amongst four New Haven organizations. 

This year’s four beneficiaries include Downtown Evening Soup Kitchen, Integrated Refugee and Immigrant Services, New Haven Housing Fund and Columbus House. YHHAP has contributed funding to these partner organizations over several fasts, but Columbus House, which provides shelter and fosters personal growth for those who are homeless or at risk of homelessness, is a newly introduced partner.

Ra noted that the chosen organizations were selected based on YHHAP’s goals as a hunger and homelessness outreach organization. DESK provides food assistance and services to people experiencing homelessness or living in poverty. New Haven Housing Fund organizes support networks between groups in need and New Haven resources. IRIS is an agency that assists refugees and displaced persons establish lives in Connecticut’s communities.

Chen told the News that the amount raised is evenly distributed between the organizations. 

Luis Guevara-Flores ’24, the YHHAP co-director, emphasized the significance of working with organizations that are “from New Haven for New Haven.” Flores added that YHHAP does not dictate how the organizations should use the funds — instead, the donation is just a way for Yale students to “support the community directly.”

Steve Werlin, the executive director at DESK, has witnessed the impact the donations from the fast and other YHHAP projects have had on the community. As government funding and grants are typically provided with limitations on usage, it is particularly advantageous to receive funds that can be used to try out new programs that have significant positive effects.

“These fundraisers give us the flexibility to do creative things,” Werlin said. “The need is so great right now that every dollar is really helping to make sure that we have the staff available — the door is open to get people into our space, connect them to additional resources so that they can move on from homelessness and poverty.”

While the fast is YHHAP’s largest fundraiser, the group hosts many other initiatives including a big siblings program focused on youth mentorship, reducing food waste in Yale dining halls and a clothing closet. 

“DESK is a long-term partner,” said Paul Douglass ’26, the YHHAP fast co-coordinator. “The relationship with some of these organizations is longer than just the fast.”

YHHAP is providing other opportunities to give back during National Hunger and Homeless Awareness Week occurring from Nov. 12 to Nov. 20. Volunteer opportunities include getting involved at the Yale Community Kitchen and a YHHAP collaboration with The Dramat hosting three New Haven activists on a panel addressing housing insecurity. 

“Thinking about our positionality as Yale students and the ‘right way’ to do service as a Yale student, [the fast] really is one of the most accessible ways, in my mind, for Yale students to do something about these issues,” Guevara-Flores said.

A report released by Advancing CT Together of the annual Point-in-Time Count for 2022 found that there was a 13 percent increase in overall homelessness in Connecticut from the previous year.