Less than a year ago, Yale hosted Fall Festival, an annual outdoor celebration that invites undergraduates to explore regional and culturally-inspired foods. Yale Dining served delicious items like black lentil sabih, kimchi fried rice, apple crisp a la mode, smashed potatoes, Mexican hot cocoa, churros and much more. A banquet fit for royalty. So much food that students couldn’t possibly finish all of it. 

According to a nonprofit that recovered excess food from last year’s Fall Festival, approximately 1,000-1,500 pounds of food were left over. If the average American eats four pounds of food each day, Fall Festival leaves enough food to feed more than 50 people for a week.

Approximately 30-40 percent of the U.S. food supply is not consumed, equating to approximately 133 billion pounds and $161 billion going down the drain. Instead of feeding the 34 million food insecure people in the U.S., much of this food ends up in a landfill. Valuable water, labor and energy go to waste in producing so much excess food, such as excessive greenhouse gas emissions. According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, the best means of reducing food waste is to recover excess food and donate it to people who are hungry.

For the past two years, I’ve volunteered for Haven’s Harvest, a nonprofit based in New Haven that picks up excess food and delivers it to people in need. Haven’s Harvest partners with 175 New Haven sites — the Yale Community Kitchen, Loaves and Fishes’ meal program, Women Of the Village Food Pantry, the Connecticut Intervention Center, Integrated Refugee and Immigrant Services and many more — to ensure that food gets to those who are the most vulnerable to hunger. Last year, with the help of more than 150 volunteer drivers, Haven’s Harvest collected 91,000 pounds of excess food from Yale by making over 1,000 trips to Yale dining facilities. When including grocery store and restaurant excess food pick-ups, Haven’s Harvest picked up and distributed approximately 1.5 million pounds of food to people in need. In other words, Haven’s Harvest provides around 1,125,000 meals each year to those who are hungry in New Haven with the help of food partners Haven’s Harvest works with.

Despite the importance of their work, Haven’s Harvest is terribly underfunded and understaffed. Haven’s Harvest had to lay off previous full-time staff due to funding shortages. Aside from Executive Director Lori Marin, Haven’s Harvest currently has no other employees. Lori wears many hats, including conducting fundraising outreach, writing grants, planning events and coordinating logistics. The process of coordinating with volunteers, dining facilities and community shelters while raising money to stay afloat is a complex one with countless moving parts.

With funding in such limited supply, it is nearly impossible for Haven’s Harvest to meet the food demands of the city. According to the Yale Hunger and Homelessness Action Project, over 20 percent of New Haven residents are food insecure, meaning they do not have consistent access to affordable and nutritious food. That’s over 27,000 people. This means that Haven’s Harvest provides approximately 41 meals a year to a hungry person in New Haven — still a long way to go.

As Yale students and New Haven residents, we have a responsibility to the community. We can help encourage and coordinate food recovery within our own residential colleges, and communicate with Haven’s Harvest and volunteer drivers in advance of scheduled events to organize food pick-up and delivery. If we know of grocery stores or restaurants that often have leftover food, we can refer them to Haven’s Harvest. Yale can provide compensation to Haven’s Harvest for their pickup and distribution of excess food, and support the creation of food recovery infrastructure such as food hubs and communal refrigerators, so that New Haven might be a city that meets everyone’s food needs.

A coordinated effort is needed to bring together all the players to create a sustainable means for getting excess food to those who need it the most. Here is an opportunity for Yale to play a leading role. Much of the Yale community agrees that making Yale a zero-food waste institution while addressing hunger in New Haven is a goal worth striving for. But the Yale community has not done enough in terms of actions to live up to this goal. If we fail to act, Haven’s Harvest may not be able to continue their work, let alone expand their services to support all of New Haven’s hungry.

MATTHEW KIRSCHNER is a senior from Ezra Stiles. Contact him at matt.kirschner@yale.edu 

Correction, Sept. 15: A previous version of this story’s headline was grammatically incorrect; it has now been remedied.