Asha Prihar

The Yale Hunger and Homelessness Action Project, or YHHAP, will hold its annual spring fast on April 6.

During the fast, students have the opportunity to donate their meal swipes for that Saturday — three swipes for those on the full meal plan and two swipes for those on the flex meal plan — which will then be converted into funds donated to local organizations working to fight hunger and homelessness.

Paul Douglass ’26 has been a co-chair for the fast since the fall of his first year. Douglass, co-chair Vivian Whoriskey ’25 and a team of about 10 other volunteers are responsible for organizing and publicizing the fast. The YHHAP team, Douglass said, works with Yale Hospitality and local restaurants, who support the fast, as well as with local community partners to determine “who really needs this money the most right now.”

YHHAP began about 50 years ago as the Yale Hunger Action Project, founded by students hoping to help address famine in Sudan. YHAP organized its first biannual “Fast Against World Hunger” in 1974 to raise funds and increase awareness of world hunger. The organization changed its name to YHHAP in 1987 to incorporate its expanded focus on homelessness alongside hunger.

The group acts as a larger umbrella organization, supporting several other student organizations alongside the fast. Kitchen to Kitchen and the Restaurant Rescue Project work to reduce food waste in University dining halls and local restaurants, respectively, by donating extra food to local nonprofits. Yale Community Kitchen is a student-run soup kitchen on Yale’s campus that serves food on Friday and Saturday evenings. Non-food-related organizations under YHHAP include Clothing Closet, which allows Yale and New Haven community members to donate new or gently used shoes, clothing and accessories to those in need.

Much of YHHAP’s preparation for the fast involves outreach.

YHHAP partners with local restaurants to support students who sign up to donate their meals on the day of the fast by providing discounts. This year’s partners include Claire’s Corner Copia, Garden Catering and Anaya Sushi & Ramen.

Isabella Barboza ’26 is a member of the student marketing team for the fast. Having worked on creating digital media for previous fasts and helping run its social media accounts, she explained that her work this semester has involved reaching out to clubs already affiliated with Dwight Hall, as well as larger clubs that have helped promote the fast in past years.

The team also sends campuswide emails, puts up posters and operates sign-up tables in or outside each of the 14 residential college dining halls, in the Schwarzman Center and on Cross Campus.

In-person outreach, Barboza said, is probably the most effective way they spread the word. 

“You see the email and that’s cool, but it’s better when you have people actually telling you what it is,” Barboza said. 

On March 31, YHHAP held its annual Spring Fest for the first time since before the COVID-19 pandemic to fundraise and bring greater awareness to the fast. The event featured performances from the Yale Undergraduate Jazz Collective, the Ex!t Players, Doox of Yale, the Olmo Quartet and Pretty Please. Meanwhile, Asian Recipes at Yale, or ARAY, donated food that was sold at the event and plans to donate the proceeds from their two upcoming pop-up events.

These efforts have had varying success in increasing student participation in the fast. Douglass said it can be challenging to “break through the noise” and convince students that the impact of giving up their swipes to the community outweighs the cost to them.

Barboza added that it can be difficult to convince students to approach and engage with tables. In addition, the fast is coming during a heavy midterm period, which means that many students’ focus is on other things.

Still, many students choose to donate their swipes for the fast, with the proceeds going to local organizations. 

Despite meal prices ranging from $5.50 to $17, Yale Hospitality donates about $8 total per student in exchange for the two or three meal swipes.

The remaining donations, Douglass explained, largely come from faculty and alumni contributions. Last fall’s fast brought in $15,310, with $7,756 coming from donations and $7,554 from Yale Hospitality as a result of donated student meal swipes.

This spring, funds raised through the fast will go to Haven’s Harvest, Continuum of Care and Sunrise Cafe. Haven’s Harvest works to reduce food waste and give recovered food to those in need and advocates for improved state and federal food policy. Continuum, meanwhile, offers supportive environments and housing for those dealing with mental illness, intellectual disability, addiction and homelessness.

At Sunrise Cafe, volunteers serve guests breakfast free of charge each weekday morning, in addition to providing some medical services and support in finding housing. They start preparing breakfast at 5:00 a.m., and volunteers and guests begin to show up at about 6:30 a.m.

Bob Silverstein, the chair of Sunrise Cafe’s board of directors, has volunteered with the cafe since he moved to the area in 2016.

“Until people have something to eat and are housed, you are not going to be able to change your life,” he said. “We can’t fix things but we at least get things started.”

Over 100 guests visit the cafe each day. By the end of each month, that number is closer to 200 as food stamps and other sources run out. The cafe has between two and five volunteers each morning — often Yale students — who take orders and bring food and other items to guests.

Will Bastin lost his job and home after having a seizure. He has been coming to Sunrise Cafe for about a year and a half and said that he appreciates the loving and humble environment fostered by the cafe community.

“These people are priceless,” Bastin said. “They will cater to anybody — it’s a beautiful place.”

Silverstein explained that fundraising is always a challenge in ensuring everything comes together. The cafe largely relies on private donations, including the money generated from the fast, and grants from foundations.

Last fall, 1,019 students — about a sixth of the student body — donated their swipes for the fast. Though numbers are lower than pre-pandemic levels — in years before the COVID-19 pandemic, the fast has seen over 1,500 participants — they have gradually risen since the fast resumed in fall 2021.

Douglass said he hopes that this spring’s fast will yield similar results. Last semester, the fast raised $15,310. While he acknowledged that the spring fast is often smaller than the fall fast, he said that they were still hoping to be in the $12,000 to $17,000 range.

Esha Garg ’26 has participated in the fast each semester since first hearing about it in the spring of her first year and has already signed up for this spring’s fast.

For Garg, donating her swipes was a no-brainer.

“I think it’s one of the easiest ways for Yale students to engage in community service,” she explained. “Especially considering the fact that it’s the end of the spring semester, a lot of us have guest swipes left. So it’s really easy for us to just use a guest swipe on ourselves … and by doing YHHAP you’re literally making sure that these meals are going back to the community.”

Students can donate their meal swipes by signing up for the fast via Yale Hub by April 5.

Michael Willen is head copy editor for the News. He is from Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, and is a junior in JE majoring in computer science alongside a certificate in data science.