David Zheng, Senior Photographer

This week, Yale students can opt in to donate their meal swipes to fight hunger and homelessness in New Haven — but the value of these meal swipes being donated may not be as high as students think. 

The Yale Hunger and Homelessness Action Project’s semesterly fast is returning to convert Yalies’ meal swipes into monetary donations for local organizations and other YHHAP initiatives. On the day of the fast, participating students forgo their dining hall meals. Yale Hospitality then directs the monetary value of the meal swipes to YHHAP. The donation period runs from Nov. 6 to Nov. 16, and the fast will take place on Nov. 17. 

“Participating in the YHHAP Fast is the easiest way for busy Yale students to give back to New Haven in a meaningful way,” said Paul Douglass ’26, who co-coordinates the YHHAP Fast. 

Students can sign up for the fast through Yale Hub by navigating to the “Dining” tab, selecting the YHHAP option and opting in. At the end of the donation period, Yale Hospitality grants the total value of the donated meal swipes to YHHAP, which then distributes the funds to its partner organizations. 

Student organizers, however, told the News that they have encountered a roadblock with Yale Hospitality in raising money.

Last fall, Yale Hospitality exchanged $10,087.38 for 1,277 sign-ups, working out to $7.90 per student, or $2.63 per meal swipe, according to Douglass. The values of dining hall meal swipes vary, with the minimum value being $5.50 for continental breakfast and the maximum value being $17 for dinner, according to reporting by the News last month. These values, organizers pointed out, fall far above the per-meal amount Yale Hospitality gives YHHAP. 

In interviews with the News, YHHAP organizers expressed frustration with the discrepancy between Yale Hospitality’s per-meal donations through the fast and the price of students’ meal swipes through Yale’s meal plans.

According to Nikhe Braimah ’25, co-director of YHHAP, the organization has tried to negotiate a higher amount for Yale Hospitality to reimburse with each meal swipe. Thus far, he said, those negotiations have failed.

“[The $7.90] includes all the meal swipes for the entire day being taken away,” Braimah said. “But we know that monetary value doesn’t line up. For example, at the Bow Wow, you get 10 [dollars] just for lunch rather than [$7.90] for all three meal swipes or the whole day. In the past, we’ve tried to work with Yale Hospitality to see where that discrepancy is coming from. Unfortunately, we haven’t been successful yet.”

According to Jocelyn Ra ’22, who also co-coordinates YHHAP Fast, part of the discrepancy between the standard meal prices and Yale Hospitality’s donations is due to residual labor costs, as Yale Hospitality employees still work on the day of the fast. 

Ra also noted that YHHAP Fast organizers previously attempted to negotiate higher donation prices due to the rising rates that students pay for meal plans. 

For example, in 2019, Yale’s boarding cost, which is equivalent to the price of the Full Meal Plan, was $7,200 a year, or $3,600 per semester. This academic year, the full meal plan costs $4,140 per semester, a cost increase of 15 percent. Between 2019 and 2023, Yale Hospitality raised the amount donated per fast swipe from $7.44 to $7.90, an increase of 6.18 percent over four years. 

“We initially also wanted to enter negotiations because of inflation and given the rising meal prices that Yale students have to pay,” Ra said. “[Yale Hospitality] said that it was going to be a 6 percent increase every year, but when we did the math, it was not 6 percent [per year].”

In spring 2022, Yale Hospitality donated $7.79 per student signup, whereas in fall 2022, they donated $7.90 per student. A 6 percent increase would have constituted $8.26 per student in fall 2022.

In a March email written from a Yale Hospitality administrator to a former YHHAP Fast coordinator, which was obtained by the News, Yale Hospitality claimed there was a 6 percent increase in donation prices between the 2021–2022 and 2022–2023 academic years. Similar claims were made in an email sent to YHHAP organizers in the fall of 2022, which the News also obtained.

“While we don’t provide specific calculations on a per-meal basis, we have done our best to make sure that this is a fair assessment and we did give a significant increase of 6% per meal last year, resulting in a larger donation than in previous years,” a Yale Hospitality administrator wrote the email from March.

Douglass and Ra expressed frustration with what they alleged was stalled communications and a lack of transparency from Yale Hospitality. 

Yale Hospitality did not respond to requests to set up a meeting with the coordinators until the YHHAP leaders asked Dwight Hall administrators to intermediate, per Douglass. 

Ra said that transparency is especially important for nonprofit fundraisers such as YHHAP Fast.

“When we get blocked by [administrative challenges], that makes it very hard for us to be transparent with the rest of the Yale body in general,” Ra said. “It devalues our efforts to try to make sure that [donors] know exactly step-by-step where their money is going towards, and it also devalues [donors’] intentions as well to try to help New Haven in general, which is something that everybody who partakes in the YHHAP Fast wants to do.”

Douglass expressed his hope to expand the fast in years to come. His long-term goal, he said, is for Yale Hospitality to donate meal swipes that students do not use on other days of the year. 

Meal swipes — aside from bonus meals — do not roll over between semesters or years, leaving many students already paying for more food than they eat, he explained. Points roll over between only the fall and spring semesters.

“The fast is right now just one day a semester, but I’m sure everyone’s had the experience of thinking, ‘I didn’t use my meal swipe today, I wish I could do something with it,’” Douglass said. “So we want to expand. The tricky thing is working with Yale Hospitality, and obviously, if we were to expand the fast they would have to expand the amount that they donate.” 

Ra also said that leaders from the Muslim Students Association and the Slifka Center for Jewish Life have separately reached out about the possibility of donating their unused meal swipes during religious fasts to YHHAP. Negotiations with Yale Hospitality on this idea “didn’t progress,” she explained, saying that the coordinators hope to make this idea a reality in the near future.

Christelle Ramos, Yale Hospitality’s Senior Manager, declined to comment for this story.

“Even though [the initiatives to expand the fast] didn’t work out, I think it was very encouraging just hearing that people wanted to use their entire capacity as a Yale student to increase the amount of impact that we could have on New Haven,” Ra said. “That’s a really uplifting thing to hear.”

This year, YHAAP is donating to organizations including the Sunrise Cafe, New Reach, the New Haven Inner-City Enrichment Center and Project Access. These organizations work with New Haven residents affected by homelessness and food insecurity, with some running pantry services while others provide access to medical care. YHHAP partnered with these organizations for the first time during its fast last spring.

Aside from nonprofit organizations, YHHAP also partners with local businesses, including the Claire’s Corner Copia, Haven Hot Chicken, Juice Box and Yorkside Pizza to provide  direct monetary donations to the initiative or discounts to participating students.

According to Arushi Dogra ’24, co-director of YHHAP, while the Dwight Hall service group has long-standing relationships with nonprofits in New Haven, organizers determine partners for the fast on a semesterly basis.

“How we usually select that is by speaking with community leaders and asking where the need is,” Dogra said.

Fast partners from previous years may notify YHHAP that they are not currently in need of donations, whereas other organizations may reach out to YHHAP to request a partnership. The coordinators also work with the Community Impact Lab at the School of Public Health, to run an analysis of the New Haven nonprofit landscape and identify where donations will make the most impact.

For Project Access, an organization that provides access to medical care for uninsured and underserved people in the New Haven area, the donation has been “a blessing,” according to Giselle Carlotta-McDonald, the organization’s executive director. She said that the donation from YHHAP makes the entirety of their “patient flexible funds.”

When a community health worker identifies a patient experiencing extreme food insecurity, the health worker from Project Access can give the patient direct aid in the form of gift cards to grocery stores, alongside information about standard food pantry resources and food stamps. 

“Having these funds helps us when we know that there’s no other resource immediately available. It allows us to give a patient who is in dire need, who hasn’t eaten in days, and maybe has children, the ability to get something to eat for the next week or days, as they wait on the application or a call back or on a waitlist” for more long-term resources, Carlotta-McDonald said. 

Carlotta-McDonald also noted that last year, Project Access received $1,639.83 from the YHHAP Fast. With these funds, the organization was able to help 12 families, with an average of $136 per family. 

Carlotta-McDonald said that the organization prioritizes helping as many individuals as possible with limited funds. 

“Every dollar that we get we stretch it as far as we can,” Carlotta-McDonald said. “Unfortunately, there are so many people in need, so we try to think about how many families we can help. And patients are extremely grateful, which is how it benefits the community health workers too.” 

Students organized the first annual “Fast Against World Hunger” on Yale’s campus in 1974.

Update, Feb. 12: A previous version of the article listed the Downtown Evening Soup Kitchen as a fast partner that did not require donations — this has been removed.

Yolanda Wang (she/her) covers endowment, finances, and donations. She is a sophomore in Davenport College majoring in political science.