$100,000 Raised for Unhoused and Food Insecure People in New Haven

$100,000 Raised for Unhoused and Food Insecure People in New Haven

Downtown Evening Soup Kitchen (DESK) is a New Haven-based nonprofit that serves people experiencing homelessness and living in poverty by providing food assistance and services that promote health, community, and equity.  Since 1987, they have served unhoused individuals just off the New Haven Green. Over the last twenty years, they have expanded their services to meet the changing needs, leading to the opening of their Drop-in & Resource Center in 2021 as a healing-oriented day program for unhoused individuals, offering a variety of basic needs, support services, and harm reduction interventions.

For more than 30 years, DESK has partnered with Yale Hospitality to provide food for their dinner program year-round, as well as support for the Thanksgiving for All program.  In 2017, Yale Hospitality began hosting the Breaking Bread Dinner; together, they have built up and expanded the event over the years.  Today, proceeds from the fundraiser account for about ten percent of DESK’s total annual budget.

This year’s Breaking Bread Dinner raised about $100,000 through ticket sales, sponsorships, and donations.

“We are so grateful to both Yale Hospitality and the Schwarzman Center for hosting Breaking Bread this year,” said Steve Werlin, DESK’s Executive Director. “It is precisely these sorts of committed, long-term relationships between Yale and community-based organizations that generate real, added value to New Haven and support those who are most in need at the grassroots level.”

At the event, DESK’s Board of Directors honored Rafi Taherian, the head of Yale Hospitality and outgoing Associate Vice President, who announced his retirement the day before the dinner.  As a former Board member himself, Taherian has supported DESK in a variety of ways for more than 25 years, including delivering meals on Thanksgiving morning each year.  “This collaboration is key,” noted Taherian on Friday night, as he was formally inducted into the McLean Society, DESK’s honorary group, named after one of their longest serving volunteers and past Board member, Scott McLean.

This year also marked the first time the event was held at the Yale Schwarzman Center (YSC), having outgrown the capacity of the university dining halls.  Maurice Harris, YSC’s Director of Communications, delivered the welcoming address and led attendees in the ceremonial breaking of the bread.  “Breaking bread together has been a principal theme for the Schwarzman Center since we opened,” said Harris, highlighting the natural connection between the center’s programs and DESK’s values.

Master of ceremonies, Bruce Barber of WNPR and WNHU, kept the evening light and entertaining, while Sommelier James Todeasa and Yale Hospitality’s Executive Chef and Director of Culinary Excellence James Benson described in great detail the efforts and considerations that went into creating the dinner’s experience.

Special guests included leaders of the Unhoused Activists Community Team (U-ACT), Carl Ferris and Alexis Terry, as well as several members of New Haven’s Board of Alders, including President Tyisha Walker-Myers, and members of Greater New Haven’s delegation to the Connecticut General Assembly.  Additionally, DESK’s Executive Director thanked a number of volunteers and Board members in attendance, and highlighted staff member Norm Clement, who saved the lives of three clients in the past year by reversing otherwise-fatal opioid overdoses.

Among the event’s most celebrated sponsors were Yale’s Office of New Haven Affairs, Morgan Stanley, PAC Group, Yale New Haven Health, Avangrid, and DOOR3.  Additional sponsors included the Community Foundation for Greater New Haven, Connecticut Health Foundation, the Jewish Foundation of Greater New Haven, Wiggin & Dana, Tzedakah House, STV, Inc., Svigals + Partners, Lazeez Indian Cuisine, Skurnik Wines & Spirits, Smith Party Rental, Fitzgerald’s Florist, Two Roads Brewing, New England Brewing Company, Waypoint Spirits, Athletic Brewing Company, North Coast Seafood, Baldo Speciality Foods, and US Foods. Dignity Music performed during the cocktail hour, and photography was provided by Melanie Stengel Photography, both of whom donated their services.

This year’s Breaking Bread Dinner comes at a time of nearly unprecedented need, with both homelessness and food insecurity at levels that have not been seen in Connecticut since the aftermath of the Great Recession, and annual rates of fatal opioid overdoses—overrepresented among unhoused people—continuing to climb.  Werlin remarked that “as pandemic-era federal funding streams have dried up, the need for this kind of private support is critical to ensuring lifesaving services, like those provided by DESK, can continue and expand.”

“The renovations to our Drop-in & Resource Center at 266 State Street,” he continued, “will mark an important step forward in providing  a front-door to services for unhoused individuals.”  Scheduled for completion this summer, the renewed space will include a full medical clinic staffed by Cornell Scott Hill Health Center, as well as offices for additional partners providing a range of frontline services.  More information about this project can be found at deskct.org/capital.  Those looking to support DESK should visit deskct.org/financial-contributions , or sign up to volunteer at deskct.org/volunteer.

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Community Comes out for DESK in the Great Give!

Community Comes out for DESK in the Great Give!

Last week, Greater New Haven showed their love for DESK during the Great Give by raising over $60,000 in support of our mission and those it serves!

The Great Give is a 36-hour, community-wide event run by the Community Foundation for Greater New Haven.  More than 500 nonprofits participated, raising almost $3.5 million in total.  During the campaign, 257 of DESK’s donors raised the third highest amount of any organization, a clear sign of the broad appeal of the work we do.

The campaign included matches sponsored by some of our most steadfast supporters, including the Crews-McKenzie Fund (who sponsored a $10,000 match for the third year in a row!), William W. Kelly ($5,000), A-1 Toyota ($2,500), the Mfund ($2,000), and Choate Rosemary School ($2,000).

The campaign ended with a Happy Hour at Trinity Bar & Restaurant, where a few dozen of our supporters gathered to raise a glass (some which were Star Wars-themed in honor of the date, May the Fourth) and spread some good cheer in honor of the incredible work our staff and volunteers have accomplished in the past year.

As part of the Great Give, our Executive Director joined Justin Farmer on WNHH (see below) to discuss the work we do at DESK.





DESK raises over $175,000 at its annual Breaking Bread Dinner presented by Yale Hospitality

DESK raises over $175,000 at its annual Breaking Bread Dinner presented by Yale Hospitality

DESK raises over $175,000 at its annual Breaking Bread Dinner presented by Yale Hospitality

New Haven, Conn., April 18, 2023 – Last month, Yale Hospitality hosted the annual Breaking Bread Dinner to support Downtown Evening Soup Kitchen (DESK). Held on March 17, 2023, more than 175 Guests were in attendance, including state and local elected officials; two mayoral candidates; heads of various Yale divisions (Yale Hospitality, Yale Ventures, Schwarzman Center, the Office of New Haven Affairs, etc.); Yale New Haven Health  representation from the top (including their CEO and chief of internal medicine) to frontline ER personnel; local business leaders (Chabaso, Tzedakah House, Svigals, Morgan Stanley New Haven, etc.); representatives from partnering agencies (Liberty, New Reach, Christian Community Action, Fair Haven Health, Cornell Scott Hill Health, etc.); and DESK volunteers, staff, interns, clients, and Board members.

The ticket sales, sponsorships, and donations raised over $75,000 in support of the renovations to DESK’s Drop-in & Resource Center at 266 State Street.  In addition, Yale’s Director of New Haven Affairs, Lauren Zucker, announced the university’s generous contribution of $100,000 to the campaign.

The $175,000 raised at Breaking Bread will go toward DESK’s $3.5 million renovation of its 266 State Street location, which will begin in May. As part of the renovation, a new, modern, energy-efficient commercial kitchen,  and a medical clinic, staffed by Cornell Scott Hill Health Center’s Homeless Health Care Department. There will also be additional providers onsite, that will be able to conduct private, one-on-one consultations with the people DESK serves.  All of this will be connected by a new ADA-compliant elevator, a new stairwell, and a modern integrated HVAC system.

As DESK’s Executive Director, Steve Werlin, explained to those in attendance:

For the last two years, DESK has been assembling a coalition of private and public funders.  We’ve secured funding from the City of New Haven, from the state, and, thanks to our guardian angel in Washington, Rep. Rosa DeLauro, from the federal government.

With the success of the Breaking Bread fundraiser, DESK is now 85 percent of the way to their full campaign goal.  More information on this campaign the renovations can be found at deskct.org/capital.

There are more than 600 people experiencing homelessness in New Haven on any given night. The Drop-In & Resource Center, or DRC, opened in 2021 as a service hub designed to link those who are unhoused to a network of services that can move them beyond homelessness by providing both basic needs, as well as next-level support services—like shelter, housing, employment, income assistance, mental health, substance use treatment, and medical care.

For more information contact Luis Olmo-Rivera, Development Director at (475) 238-6170 or by email at: lolmorivera@deskct.org.




Breaking Bread 2023 Address

Breaking Bread 2023 Address

Last Friday, DESK held its fourth Breaking Bread Dinner.  The annual fundraiser is hosted by our generous supporters and friends at Yale Hospitality, and this year, we were able to raise over $75,000 in support of the renovations to our Drop-in & Resource Center at 266 State Street.  In addition to enjoying an incredible meal with equally incredible people — including supporters, volunteers, staff, interns, partners, and clients — I typically use this as an opportunity to highlight some of the biggest challenges DESK has been facing: a call to action, of sorts.

I started by thanking our long list of sponsors, noting the multitude of ways each contributes to our organization beyond their support of this event: Yale Hospitality, Houlihan Lawrence Wareck D’Ostilio, Yale University, Morgan Stanley, PAC Group, Yale New Haven Health, Maple Carpentry, Dolan Law Firm, Town Green Special Services District, Avangrid, Tzedakah House, Athletic Brewing, Community Foundation for Greater New Haven, Beachwold Residential, Svigals + Partners, STV, Park New Haven, Huestis Tucker Architects, Berkeley College (and Prof. David Evans), Armada Brewing, Waypoint Distillery, Continuum Distillery, Ravenna Michelson and the musicians at Dignity Music, Melanie Stengel Photography, David Suraci at Fitzgerald’s Florist, Smith Party Rental, and our wine sponsors: Slocum & Sons, Missing Link Wine Company, and Lazeez Indian Cuisine.

Then I delivered the following address:

Back in March of 2020, we had this beautiful event planned, which of course we had to cancel.  But in the course of the last three years, we have made A LOT of new friends and brought together a lot of new supporters. These days, when I have one-on-one conversations with donors, with volunteers, with board members, with partners, they frequently want to know: what’s the secret?  How does DESK build such a broad, dedicated, and engaged network of supporters? And do you know what I tell them? Can I let you all in on the secret?

We do really good work.

That’s right.  Our staff, our volunteers, our partners: the people who work at and with DESK are literal lifesavers.  And our interns, too! Shannon is an intern working on her bachelors in Social Work at Southern.  And back in early December, Shannon and one of our Drop-in Center staff, Aisha, had just gotten off their shift and were heading toward the train station when they discovered a client of ours laid out on the sidewalk in the midst of an apparent opioid overdose. 

The two of them sprang to action.  Just as they had been trained, they assessed the situation, called 911, and grabbed their Narcan kit.  For those who don’t know, Narcan, or naloxone, is a powerful antidote that reverses an opioid overdose in process.  So that night, long before emergency medical personnel arrived, Shannon administered Narcan in the form of a nasal spray and saved this individual’s life.

And while it’s impressive that Shannon accomplished this in her capacity as an intern, the situation was not unique.  At this point, all of our frontline program staff have reversed overdoses in and around our neighborhood.  And no less typical is what happened the next day, after Shannon revived this person.  He returned to our Drop-in Center for services.  I know it should go without saying but I’ll say it anyway: we can’t improve the lives of those we serve if we can’t first save the lives of those we serve.

Having endured three years of a worldwide pandemic, we are in the midst of three overlapping public health crises in New Haven: First, we are facing a housing and homelessness crisis.  As my friend and colleague Jim Petinelli always reminds us, housing is healthcare.  We have too little deeply affordable housing, and a shelter system that is insufficient to respond to the need, a fact that was underscored this week by the debate over the so-called Tent City along the West River. 

Second, we are facing a crisis in our inability to meet mental health needs for people on the street.  Our system is cumbersome with too few frontline staff dedicated to clinical street psychiatry; as a sub-field, it is under-resourced; and those who would benefit the most are, still in 2023, horribly stigmatized.

And third, we are facing an epidemic of opioid overdoses, with highly-potent synthetics and tranquilizer-additives poisoning our neighbors.  Those of you here who work in emergency medicine are all too aware of this frightening statistic, but opioid overdoses are now the leading cause of death for people under 40; and in the US last year, more people died from opioid overdoses than from car accidents.  At DESK, just like everywhere else, these are our mothers and fathers, our brothers and sisters, our cousins, our friends . . . these are our neighbors.  And they are community members in this city.

Taken altogether, these three overlapping crises are terrifying.  And without public support and communal responsibility, they are entirely insurmountable.

And so that’s where DESK and the community that supports us (you all) come in.  Our mission is to serve people experiencing homelessness and living in poverty by providing food assistance and services that promote health, community, and equity.  We. Serve. People.

Five years ago, we offered a nightly dinner and distributed food at a weekly pantry.  We could’ve stopped there (and some thought we should’ve).  We could have gotten food out to people and called it a day, having fulfilled our mission.

But the first part of our mission is “to serve people.”  We put the PEOPLE we serve first.  Their needs, their wellbeing.  If shelter and housing is what they need, that’s what we need to help them get.  If mental health services are what they need, we have to make those connections.  If they are struggling with a substance use disorder, we need to revive them, keep them alive, and then connect them to the appropriate resources when they say they’re ready.

And that is exactly what our new Drop-in & Resource Center is doing.  Our clients come to us for basic needs — food, bathrooms, clothing, toiletries, coats — but once they are in our doors, we have an opportunity (in fact, an obligation) to connect them with additional resources that can help them move beyond homelessness and instability, and toward greater health and greater personal wellbeing.

We’ve been doing it since we opened our doors on our new State Street location in April of 2021.  And soon, we’re going to turn it all up a notch.  This spring, DESK will begin a $3.5 million renovation of our building.  As part of this renovation, we will build a new, modern, energy efficient commercial kitchen in the basement.  The second floor will include a medical clinic, staffed by Cornell Scott Hill Health Center’s Homeless Health Care Department.  And I’m especially glad that we have the director of that department, Phil Costello, with us here tonight.  To be fair, Phil has been with us, right at our side, since day-one, advocating for a full medical clinic collocated with a basic needs drop-in center like DESK for years.  But we’ll also have space for additional providers onsite, so they can have private, one-on-one consultations with the people we serve.  All of this will be connected by a new ADA-compliant elevator, a new stairwell, and a modern integrated HVAC system.

And it’s all happening very soon!  For the last two years, DESK has been assembling a coalition of private and public funders.  We’ve secured funding from the City of New Haven, from the state, and, thanks to our guardian angel in Washington, Rep. Rosa DeLauro, from the federal government.  On the private side, Cornell Scott Hill Health Center and Connecticut Foodshare are both underwriting portions of the medical clinic and kitchen respectively.  And we have a network of major donors who have pledged multi-year commitments to this project.  

[Yale University’s Lauren Zucker was then introduced and came up to present DESK with a $100,000 contribution to our capital campaign.  She was followed by Rafi Taherian, head of Yale Hospitality, who spoke about the longstanding partnership between DESK and Yale, and his personal experiences with DESK over the years.]

I am very excited to announce that with the federal funding, state funding, City funding, partner funding, and now Yale’s contribution, we are at this point 83% of the way to our goal of $3.5 million!

Tonight, we are officially kicking off the public phase of this Capital Campaign.  

Some of you in this room have already made multi-year pledges, including 100 percent of our Board members.  And certainly, just by being here, you’re already supporting this critical project.  

But tonight, I’m asking you to dig in a bit.  Giving to a capital campaign like this is a big deal.  Most of you in this room give to us yearly already — that helps us keep the lights on and food on the table.  Tonight, I want you to consider a bigger one-time commitment.  But this time, it isn’t like your monthly mortgage payments or your heating bill.  This is a once-in-a-while sort of thing — the new furnace or the down-payment on your house.  It’s going to be a very long time before DESK does another capital campaign (I promise), so for this, dig deeper, consider what you can afford, and join me in ensuring that we are working toward a community where homelessness is rare, brief, and one-time, and where those who are suffering can get more than a lifeline — they can get recovery, stability, and personal fulfillment. 

Our Board members and staff are bringing around pledge cards.  You can fill it out tonight to make a one-time or three-year pledge; you can follow QR code to donate online or make a pledge; or you can bring the card home, and think about it.  If you think you have the means to make a much bigger gift, then I want you to consider what helping those most in need means to you, and then decide.

Thank you all for being here tonight, for being supporters of our critical work, and, most of all, for being part of this community.


Anna May Day!

Today, we honored Anna May Suraci, DESK’s longtime bookkeeper and friend, on the occasion of her retirement. Words cannot do justice to the gratitude we owe to Anna May for her years of service to DESK … but we tried anyway! Click this link here for the presentation to Anna May outside her home in Hamden, where she was surrounded by family, friends, and the warmth of community.

Here is the transcript from the event:

  • 00:25I’m Scott McLean, the Board President of the Downtown Evening Soup Kitchen Welcome to our recognition ceremony for Anna May Suraci.
  • 00:42Anna May is one of those long-serving people who have been associated with DESK. She has been our long time accountant and bookkeeper for the organization and we want to recognize all those years of service.
  • Unknown Speaker01:03(unknown speaker)
  • Scott McLean01:06So I want to just say thank you from the bottom of my heart.
  • 01:13I have been a volunteer for 20 years and Anna May has been bookkeeper for 18 years.
  • 01:15Good!
  • Unknown Speaker01:18Unknown
  • Scott McLean01:21So I wanted to just thank you for all the work.
  • 01:28And yet there’s so many ways you make a difference, that people just don’t see every day way. That’s because you’re someone who is behind the scenes and it’s the people behind the scenes that allows a great organization to thrive and survive.
  • 01:46And Anna May, you’ve definitely been part of that DESK story. I want to give a thank you from the whole organization. Now our Treasurer Tim Opstrup has some words for you.
  • 01:57Tim Opstrup: When I was thinking about what to say, the first thing that came to mind
  • 02:01was Proverbs 31 about a woman of character, and it goes like this:
  • 02:08Arriving over “A woman of noble character…is worth far more than rubies.” I’m sure know the verse. “Her children are blessed; her husband also; he praises her and many women do noble things but you surpass them all.”
  • 02:15″Charm is deceptive and beauty is fleeting, but a woman who fears the Lord is to the praised. Honor her for all her hands have done.”
  • 02:21″Let her works bring praise at the city gates.” Today we stand here at the city gates and we do indeed honor and praise you, for all the work that you have done. You walk in faith walked out your faith and in love for God, by supporting the vulnerable people in New Haven, through your service to DESK and we so appreciate you for that.
  • 02:35Not only did you give your time and talent, but the way you did it, was amazing.
  • 02:43You were prepared, every single week, kept me informed that I can do my job. But, even more importantly, which I think is so cool, is that you literally had a place ready for us at the table. Just so all you are aware, but we would come in this house, the glass of water, there would be Hershey’s kisses for us [on the Finance Committee]
  • 02:57There would be a whole table full of snacks. And I still looked forward to those meetings. And so, in addition to doing a great job, HOW you serve, is so amazing.
  • 03:07So although we’re sad to see you go, we understand everything has a season. And then, in the Coast Guard (and I believe your grandson is in the Coast Guard).
  • 03:18And I was also in the coast guard and, at the end of retirements, we always have the saying that “Today we stand here shipmate. The Watch stands relieved — relieved by those you have trained and guided and led. We have the Watch.”
  • 03:31And DESK is a better place, because of you.
  • 03:39And I always want you to be my “standing date” at every Breaking Break [fundraiser event] every year.
  • 03:42So I will come back and pick up to go there, next year. Well done, good and faithful servant.
  • Unknown Speaker04:06Amen!!!
  • Tim Opstrup04:08So please accept these flowers from DESK.
  • Tim Optstrup04:20Anna May: This is unbelievable. You, I could call you anytime. DESK is very, very, very special. To have an organization so dedicated to feeding the homeless is very, very special. Not only that, one of the highlights of my life I will never forget, was when you accompanied me to Breaking Bread.[inabudible]..we would pass by people at the table and I would ask ‘what is your connection to DESK?’ And I spoke to one woman and she said ‘I bring my grandchildren to serve food at DESK at Christmas time, to help feed the homeless’
  • unknown04:25———-
  • Anna May Suraci04:36Anna May: And I said to her, ‘Do you realize what wonderful things you are doing for your grandchild? To take a child, and have a child be happy serving others! This is absolutely incredible. And what a fantastic world it would be if everyone was busy serving and helping others.
  • Unknown Speaker05:01————
  • Unknown Speaker05:10————
  • Unknown Speaker05:17————-
  • Unknown Speaker05:40Amen!
  • Unknown Speaker05:42Right on, Anna May
  • Anna May Suraci05:50And to see the dedication and the progress that you’re making.
  • Unknown Speaker05:56————
  • Anna May Suraci06:00Geting another building, and exapanding and so forth. I see the Lord blessing these efforts. It is wonderful and I am very honored and I learned a lot, by working with such wonderful, dedicated people.
  • Unknown Speaker06:07[APPLAUSE]
  • Scott McLean06:34Anna May You are a blessing to DESK Thank you for this. I personally wanted to thank you for all the things you set on the table for us at the Finance meetings. I would come to your house and find all the wonderful things you set before us. You don’t know how much it meant to me becaue for years I tried to break the habit of eating fig newtons, and now I’m fully addicted once again — so thanks for that!
  • 06:40——
  • 06:43———–
  • 06:46————-
  • 06:49————–
  • 06:57————–
  • 06:59And Now I want to turn things over to Mr. Steve Werlin our Executive Director at DESK, who has a presentation to make for you.
  • 07:06———-
  • 07:07————
  • 07:20Steve Werlin:
  • 07:22Just a few words. The bill by the way, Scott, is coming to you soon for the fig newtons you ate. [laughter]
  • 07:25Steve Werlin: we are going through a time of transition right now at DESK, with some uncertainty some anxiety, with a little bit of fear.
  • 07:32And no less so, with this transition. We have to transition to something new.
  • Steve Werlin07:41First off, I want to thank you for shepherding us through this process.
  • Steve Werlin07:45..For Making it happen, for being there for the past year, and for being so gracious. For meeting with our new accountants and for being so gracious with them.
  • Unknown Speaker07:52————
  • Scott McLean07:56STEVE WERLIN:
  • 07:58Still, I don’t have any uncertainty for fear about the skills they will bring to this. They will be fine, and open to what you did, in terms of technical side of accounting.
  • Steve Werlin08:05But, what I do have some fear and some anxiety about, is that they will not be able to bring the softer stuff you brought to the job: The love, your heart, the fig newtons [laughter], but I think that is going to be the hardest part of this transition.
  • Scott McLean08:11—————
  • 08:14———–
  • 08:19————-
  • 08:24—————-
  • 08:30—————–
  • Steve Werlin08:33I thank you so much for bringing that, to this job. For you, it was more than a job than a job of course. It was a mission. So much more than anyone has ever brought to this job before.
  • Steve Werlin08:38Thank you so much.