There's No Place Like Harvard For the Holidays

Communications problems and new food preparation methods in the Houses have threatened the supply of food to the Harvard Square Homeless Shelter at the University-Lutheran Church (UniLu), shelter officials said yesterday.

Last week, a "communication problem" prevented UniLu--the only completely student-run shelter in the nation--from getting any food from Harvard University Dining Services (HUDS). River dining halls have been the main source of food distributed by the shelter for about 10 years, according to HUDS Executive Chef Michael Miller.

But for about one week after the shelter's annual opening on November 15, the shelter went without HUDS food. UniLu retrieved food from HUDS last night for the first time this year.

The lack of HUDS food for the past week has forced the shelter to use its small budget to buy groceries and turn to donations from the Harvard and Cambridge communities.

"It's an emergency situation," said Jondou J. Chen '01, UniLu's emergency director on call. "We've been trying for the past week and a half to retrieve food, but somewhere in the communications process [with HUDS] we haven't gotten any."

Miller said that HUDS is committed to helping the shelter, but said he didn't have the details of current delivery problems.

"I don't have all the particulars," Miller said. "But let me say that we're going to do whatever we need to do to support the shelter. And that's that. I want to see those people fed."

Chen said he is worried the shelter will receive less food from HUDS now because dining hall renovations have allowed HUDS to more precisely gauge the amount of food to produce in each House.

"Word has it that some of the individual House kitchens know they should be saving food, but just haven't had enough to save," Chen said.

Renovations have already been completed in Eliot, Kirkland, Lowell and Winthrop dining halls, four river Houses that UniLu depends upon to feed the temporary residents of the shelter.

"The renovated food halls are producing food in a new way--in small batches--so they are producing less food and don't have as much left over," Miller said.

The University plans to eventually renovate all the dining halls. All food would then be prepared in smaller batches, minimizing the amount of leftovers.

A reduction in leftover food would be a major problem for the shelter, which depends on HUDS for food to feed shelter residents.

Miller said HUDS would continue to support UniLu even if the amount of leftover food became negligible, but would not specify how.

"I don't know yet [what we would do] because we have not yet crossed that bridge," he said. "I will say that as the shelter needs supplies we will help to find supplies for the shelter."

UniLu Volunteer Director Alina Das '01 said she is confident that the shelter will continue to provide important services to the homeless of Cambridge and Boston.

"Whatever changes there are, we're confident that Harvard is keeping the shelter in mind," Das said. "If for some reason they cannot salvage food for us, I'm confident that we could get food elsewhere."

Das stressed that the existence of the only entirely student-run shelter in the country is not threatened.

"I'm confident that we'll be able to care for the needs of our guests," she said.