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MIT should demand ARA change donation policies

Several articles and letters have appeared recently in The Tech concerning the expiration of ARA's contract and its possible renewal [most recently: "MIT likely to renew ARA," March 2]. The MIT community has brought up many problems with ARA. We as members of MIT Hunger Action Group would like to add two of ours: the unfairness of ARA's charitable donation policy, and its treatment of leftover food.

Every November, the week before Thanksgiving, the MIT Hunger Action Group hosts a week-long Hunger Awareness Week for Oxfam America, a non-profit organization that helps combat world hunger. For the annual Fast Day, we ask people to donate the amount of money they would spend on one day of food.

Response at MIT has always been strong: Many people give more than they would spend on food in a day, and last fall we collected $1700. A large part of these donations are collected through the meal card plan. The vast majority of students who donate money for Fast Day do not fast, or even skip a meal; the donation is a gesture of solidarity, not a contract.

ARA, however, keeps 55 cents of every dollar donated. They claim this outrageous amount is needed for "overhead expenses" such as cafeteria maintenance and staffing. Even though ARA loses no business on Fast Day, they appropriate more than half of all donations to justify "overhead," which the students then pay for a second time when they eat ARA food on Fast Day. Many students have expressed anger about this profit-seeking policy.

Where does this ARA "overhead" go? Part must go to the color TV and VCR in McCormick Dining Hall which cycles through a four-minute summary of the four food groups. And how much goes toward the glossy ARA brochures and posters? It is sad to think that money that students wish to direct to Oxfam America ends up fueling expensive propaganda from which students rarely benefit. (Have you seen the authentic ARA T-shirt on display at McCormick?)

Our second point of conflict concerns ARA's policy regarding leftover food. Being inspired by working systems at both Boston University's ARA service and Harvard University's food service, MIT Hunger Action has been trying, over the past two years, to initiate a system at MIT through which much leftover food from ARA would be donated to neighboring soup kitchens and shelters. MIT Hunger Action would arrange for the pickup and transport of all food. Under the Good Samaritan Law of 1985, ARA has no legal responsibility for any food given in good faith.

ARA has refused to donate any food, claiming that absolutely no food is ever wasted at MIT. No system of this size can realistically make such a claim, and evidence to the contrary can be seen at any of the dining halls. ARA does recycle leftover hot dishes, as has been described in a past letter to The Tech ["ARA food still substandard despite claimed reforms," March 6]. Nevertheless, perishable items such as bread, salad, and many cooked dishes cannot be safely recycled. ARA prefers to hide all signs of inefficiency rather than donate leftover food to people who direly need it.

MIT needs to insist that its food service be more receptive to the needs of both the students it serves and the community within which it operates. ARA must make some basic policy changes before it can claim to fulfill such a role. Furthermore, MIT needs to make a greater effort to investigate alternatives to ARA. Time is short before ARA's contract expires.

Anuradha Vedantham G->

for the MIT Hunger Action Group->