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Hapless YHHAP
Bill Rogel • Playing Fast and loose with students’ cash December 1999

The dining halls were rather empty on Wednesday, Nov. 10, as 1,589 students sacrificed their allotted meals for the Yale Hunger and Homelessness Action Project Fast. The fast organizers were able to encourage a large portion of Yale’s population, myself included, to give up their meals so that the money can be given to alleviate hunger and homelessness. It seemed like a great idea at the time. After all, even the most cold-hearted conservative does not object to helping the hungry. I was led to believe that my inconvenience would translate directly into meals and shelter for the needy. So I yielded to peer pressure and signed away my board, feeling that I had done a good thing. It was certainly a shock to me when, the day after the fast, the YDN ran an article with the headline, “Less money raised, but more students participate.” I sensed that all was not right in the world, and that maybe the fast was not the noble, benevolent act of charity that I had naively thought it to be.

The fast raised a total of $11,088 for YHHAP, considerably less than last fall’s $14,000 sum, despite increased participation. The vast majority of contributing students had either the 14-meals-per-week plan or the 21-meals-per-week plan and gave up three meals, while a few were on the 10-meal-per-week plan and gave up two. The students who gave up three meals each netted a mere $6.39 for YHHAP, only $2.13 per meal. The few who were on the 10-meal plan gave $5.67 each, resulting in an average donation of $6.14 per person.

The on-campus meal plans both cost $1,685 per semester. This breaks down to $112.33 per week for 15 weeks. The dining services assume that the average on-campus student, regardless of meal plan, eats 14 meals per week in Yale dining halls. Thus, students spent $8.02 per meal. This contrasts with $2.13 going to YHHAP. 73.5% of the money students lost by giving up three meals still went to the dining halls, while only 26.5% actually made it to YHHAP. A student who made a $6.39 bursar-bill or cash donation and still ate his three meals ends up contributing just as much as the one who had to eat elsewhere. Most students, having spent at least $6.39 at restaurants that day, would have saved money this way.

The reason that so little money gets through to YHHAP is that only the amount that the actual food costs is donated. This makes perfect sense. If the voluntary nature of the fast is to be preserved, all the dining hall workers have to show up and be paid for it. And it certainly would not be fair to reduce the dining hall workers’ hourly wages for that day just because fewer students are eating. Parin Parikh ’02, the coordinator of this year’s fast, concedes that the dining halls “take a bunch. …$6.39 sounds like very little, and I wish that could be more. I can understand where they’re coming from. It’s just kind of frustrating…” It may be frustrating, but that seemingly low number represents all of the savings that result from the fast. No effort on YHHAP’s part will be able to change the fact that students will always give up a lot for very little.

The problems don’t end there, for a great deal of the money that actually ends up in YHHAP’s hands is transferred to questionable groups and causes. Though this year’s list of YHHAP beneficiaries had not been finalized by the time of publication, the YFP was provided with a list and breakdown of the beneficiaries of last year’s fast money. Much of it went to worthwhile charities, like the Connecticut Food Bank and the YHHAP food pantry. On the other hand, local advocacy groups that engage in political lobbying on seemingly unrelated issues like police brutality were beneficiaries of YHHAP money as well. Regardless of one’s position on such concerns, it is disingenuous to ask students to give their money for one cause, and then send it to another.

Thirty-two percent of last year’s money went to international charity organizations like OXFAM, Madres, and IDEX, which generally have substantial overhead costs. Moreover, they are often involved in political activism. Some or all of these organizations lobby for the cancellation of debt owed by Third World nations, penalties for international capital investment, land redistribution, and restrictions of free trade.

As a fundraising mechanism, the YHHAP Fast is terribly inefficient. Our money is lost in sunk costs at the dining halls, overhead costs at the recipient organizations, and, lest we forget, the YHHAPers’ own expenses like pizza and trips to Viva’s. At the same time, YHHAP does not openly support or even publicize the organizations to whom our money is sent. There is a reason for this. “Give money to prevent hunger and homelessness” is far more convincing than “give money to Mothers for Justice and IDEX.” 

The financial donations to these organizations are only one facet of the fast. YHHAP’s primary goal, it seems, is to “raise awareness” of their issues. They have been forthright about this. But it does appear odd that we so willingly hand over our money so that we might be educated—have our awareness raised. 

Other than the general phrase, “Stop homelessness and hunger,” the average donor seems remarkably unaware where his money is going or why. Why, then, collect or spend the money at all? Why not simply sit behind those desks in the common room and convince people of the righteousness of your cause the old-fashioned way—by talking to them?

—Bill Rogel, Senior Editor, is a freshman in Berkeley College


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