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As Strike Continues, Dining Halls Donate Less to Youth Homeless Shelter

UPDATED: October 15, 2016, at 12:09 a.m.

Student volunteers at the Y2Y overnight homeless shelter in Harvard Square were concerned earlier this week by a reduction in food donations from Harvard’s dining halls because of the ongoing strike.

Lily M. Velona ’18, one of the shelter’s advocacy directors, said the student-run organization learned last week that HUDS dining halls would decrease its typical weekly donation of leftover from 14 boxes to around one box. The shelter will open for its first night of the season on Oct. 15.

University spokesperson Tania deLuzuriaga wrote in an email, “With half the dining halls open, there is less food left over.” Six House dining halls have closed this week because of the strike.

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When HUDS director for culinary operations Martin Breslin found out about the shortage of donations, he took immediate action. Breslin met with a Y2Y volunteer Friday morning to offer frozen HUDS meals to the shelter.

“It’s something very near and dear to my heart, so one thing I would never ever do is have any shelter be short of food,” Breslin said. “That would never happen under my watch. Ever.”

The shelter is currently prepared for its opening night Oct. 15. Y2Y administrative director Anais Carell ’17 said the organization is “grateful” for HUDS’s extra donation, which she said is “representative of how generous HUDS has been with us.” Carell added that HUDS donated kitchen equipment to Y2Y last year, which helped the shelter open its doors.

Cambridge non-profit Food for Free, is the intermediary that HUDS uses to send food to the shelter. DeLuzuriaga wrote in an email that Food for Free is responsible for handling the donations.

Food for Free Executive Director Sasha Purpura confirmed this, saying that Food for Free did not inform HUDS management that they had received far less donations, since the process occurs in individual dining halls and is removed from the administration.

“If somebody would have known, it would have been us. And we knew and we told the shelter,” Purpura said.

Purpura said HUDS typically donates its surplus to Food for Free, which then would donate about 14 boxes to Y2Y. Although “essentially one box” was donated to Food for Free in the last week, Purpura said the reduction was not a conscious decision on the part of HUDS management.

“There are fewer dining halls and it is staff that is unfamiliar with the process. Nobody involved is saying ‘hey, we don’t care about donating,’ but this is not simple,” Purpura said, adding that it took a long time for HUDS workers in the past to “get the process down” for distributing the surplus to Food for Free.

Purpura said Food for Free called Y2Y to let volunteers know it will donate other food it has in its reserves, although it will not be already prepared, which is what Y2Y typically receives. But Velona said she expected to be notified by the University, since Y2Y is under the Phillips Brooks House Association and is recognized by Harvard.

The shelter is open from 7 p.m. to 8 a.m. and provides a large dinner, a place to sleep, and breakfast the next morning for roughly 22 to 27 homeless young adults per night. Volunteers also provide meals at the door to those not spending the night.

Velona said Harvard dining hall leftovers make up nearly all of the meals served at the shelter’s dinner, which are often a guest’s first meal of the day. A member of the Student Labor Action Movement and a supporter of the HUDS strike, Velona voiced her frustration about the food shortage to friends in Local 26, the Boston-based labor union representing HUDS employees. In response, some workers who have received food donations offered to give them instead to the shelter—a gesture Velona called “an incredible show of solidarity.”

Adams House cook Edward B. Childs said workers on strike were “upset” to hear about the decrease in food donations. He added that HUDS workers have a special “compassion” for the homeless.

“We have family, friends who may have been homeless at one time or another,” Childs said. “Some of us have been homeless at one time or another,” he added, referring to HUDS workers.

Purpura said HUDS management and workers have both been “amazingly supportive of food donation” and that she has been “blown away” by the University’s support.

“It’s genuine. They got this program going—all of them. The management very much included,” Purpura said.

Velona said as of Thursday the shelter had been reaching out to local organizations for food donations.

“We might have to dip into our budget but we’re hoping to scramble together donations,” she said Thursday.

—Staff writer Leah S. Yared can be reached at leah.yared@thecrimson.com. Follow her on Twitter @Leah_Yared.

This article has been revised to reflect the following corrections:

CORRECTIONS: October 14, 2016

A previous version of this article incorrectly implied Harvard University Dining Services Management is directly responsible for overseeing donations to Y2Y. In fact, individual dining halls donate to an intermediary, the Cambridge non-profit Food for Free, and that nonprofit then handles notification of donations to Y2Y. This article also incorrectly indicated Y2Y is currently "scrambling" for food; in fact, they were concerned earlier in the week but are prepared for their opening night Oct. 15. This article also incorrectly indicated that the Unviersity directly oversees PBHA, an umbrella organization of which Y2Y is part. While the Unviersity recognizes PBHA, it is a separately incorporated non-profit organization.

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