Marchitto, who runs the culinary operations at CSC, is referencing his staff and colleagues — a team of chefs, cooks, and pantry workers who earnestly roast, whip, and wrap a savory Thanksgiving meal for New Haven residents who might otherwise go hungry. DESK, a community-based, non-profit organization, serves people experiencing homelessness or living in poverty by providing food assistance and services that promote health, community, and equity. It offers three year-round programs: a nightly dinner service, a weekly food pantry, and a Drop-In and Resource Center. A few weeks before the holiday, DESK coordinates a Turkey Drop event, collecting about 250 turkeys and 1,500 pounds of non-perishable items that complement a Thanksgiving meal. The CSC is Yale Hospitality’s central operation for baking, catering, and cold food production. With a staff of 40-strong, the CSC produces approximately 4,800 pounds (nearly 2.5 tons) of food each day for the university’s dining halls, retail locations, and catering. For DESK’S Thanksgiving program, the CSC prepare about 750 boxed meals that include oven-roasted turkey, homemade stuffing, mashed potatoes, gravy, roasted Brussels sprouts and harvest vegetables, and cranberry sauce. “Yale Hospitality is a terrific partner to work with at Thanksgiving and year-round. For the holiday, their team prepares an incredible culinary feast,” said Steve Werlin, executive director of DESK.
“It’s amazing that a small group of individuals working together can make a huge difference in the lives of so many.”
Yale Hospitality staff have supported DESK with the production process for many years. “DESK has limited space to store and cook all the turkeys donated to them. Around 20 years ago, a dedicated group of Yale Hospitality staff voluntarily took that on. They came in at night on their own time to prepare the meals utilizing the commercial-sized ovens in the former Commons kitchen,” said Dan Flynn, director of asset renewal and planned projects for Yale Hospitality.
From Freezer to Front-door
The turkeys collected during the Turkey Drop event are delivered to the CSC by DESK staff and volunteers. About 100 turkeys are thawed and processed for roasting, and any remaining turkeys are placed in a large walk-in refrigerator to slowly defrost. These turkeys are returned to DESK’s pantry, where families who want to cook their holiday dinner can pick one up along with other food items to make a Thanksgiving meal. After the turkeys and vegetables are roasted, potatoes mashed, and gravy simmered, everything is chilled. In assembly-line style, the meals are packed into individual to-go boxes. “Over the span of 2-weeks, dozens of Hospitality employees have had a hand in helping—from drivers, chefs, pantry workers, and cooks to support and logistics staff. It is a huge group effort, and everyone on the CSC team gets involved in addition to colleagues from other dining halls,” said Marchitto. The prepackaged meals are loaded onto a refrigerated truck and driven back to DESK, whose staff in partnership with Interfaith Volunteer Care Givers (IVCG) coordinate the meal delivery and manage the onsite pantry. Volunteers—who provide their own transportation—are given routes, names, addresses, and the boxed meals for delivery, and no meal would be complete without slices of locally donated pumpkin pie and bread. “We get to meet people in the community, wish them a Happy Thanksgiving, and see the positive impact of this initiative and a lot of smiles,” says Rafi Taherian, associate vice president for Yale Hospitality. Taherian, and his family have been volunteering with DESK for over 15 years, most recently delivering the holiday meals to residents on Thanksgiving morning.
For three decades, DESK has been coordinating some type of Thanksgiving program with Yale. “At one point, the DESK chefs would cook the turkey dinners, and students from the Yale Hunger and Homelessness Action Project (YHHAP) would help serve the meals that morning in the basement of the Center Church’s Parish House,” said Taherian. The partnership was formalized in 2008 through Taherian’s leadership and passion for supporting New Haven neighbors. “I reached out to DESK seeking a direct way for Yale Hospitality to work with them. The collaboration has evolved beyond Thanksgiving,” said Taherian. “Donations and food rescue programs are ongoing, directly benefiting those in need. We also do a yearly fundraiser for DESK. Many members of our staff are very invested in supporting the local community and volunteer with DESK throughout the year.” To prepare for the program, the CSC team cooked 285 pounds of turkey, 1,200 pounds of vegetables, 36 gallons of cranberry sauce, and boxed 750 meals. City residents enjoyed a hearty meal provided by a dedicated group of individuals who don’t want anyone to go hungry. “When you are involved in something like this where you are feeding people, you are connected physically and emotionally to that type of giving. The togetherness you experience when collaborating with individuals who share the same passion is equally as rewarding,” said Taherian.
Interested in volunteering?
“Hunger exists 365 days a year,” says Werlin. “We always need volunteers to help serve daily meals in our dining hall, staff our pantry, or coordinate a food or coat drive. It doesn’t take a lot to make a huge difference in someone’s life, even just for one day.” There are a variety of opportunities to volunteer. DESK and Yale Hospitality partner throughout the year on daily food rescue and fundraising events, including the Annual Breaking Bread five-course dinner event held in March.
From Katie Pellico & Catherine Shen’s reporting:
For a Connecticut family of four, it costs over $126,000 just to meet their basic needs, according to a recent United Way report. That’s more than four times the federal poverty level.
Food insecurity is a big part of the problem, affecting more than 1 in 10 Connecticut residents, according to Connecticut Foodshare. A new report from the United States Department of Agriculture found the national rate of food insecurity jumped by more than 2% from 2021 to 2022, now 12.8% of U.S. households.
This hour, UConn’s Dr. Caitlin Caspi joins us to address some of the misconceptions around food insecurity.
“Food insecurity isn’t happening in a vacuum,” she says. “It’s really intersecting with a lot of other challenges that people face,” including stable housing, health insurance, job security, disability, and other factors. “Food insecurity isn’t primarily a story about food,” says Dr. Caspi. “It’s about many facets of economic instability.”
Plus, we’ll discuss some of Connecticut Foodshare’s efforts to address food insecurity where we live, including an income-based grocery store coming soon to Hartford, where food insecurity rates are highest in the state.
Hartford High School just launched the Grub Pub, an in-school pantry. Principal Flora Padro joins us later in the hour, describing the “new normal” she envisions.
Cat Pastor contributed to this episode which originally aired October 26, 2023.
[New Haven, CT; September 19, 2023] — Downtown Evening Soup Kitchen (DESK), a New Haven institution since 1987, has been a steadfast support for the city’s food-insecure residents. Expanding its mission, DESK recently opened a daytime Drop-in & Resource Center to help unsheltered homeless individuals.
Steve Saltzman, partner at Brenner, Saltzman & Wallman LLP, witnessed DESK’s journey and felt a responsibility to act. He noted, “It’s important that we support the entire community.” Saltzman initiated change by engaging the Jewish Foundation of Greater New Haven, known for connecting philanthropists with aligned causes.
Collaborating with Lisa Stanger, the Executive Director of the Jewish Foundation, Saltzman established the Saltzman Family Fund, dedicated to enhancing DESK’s mission. Stanger affirmed, “The Saltzman Family Fund is a beacon of the Jewish Foundation’s commitment to fostering collaboration. We’re thrilled to support DESK’s future through the Saltzman Family Fund.”
Luis Olmo-Rivera, DESK’s Development Director, explained that the fund will initially cover operational expenses for DESK’s flagship programs. The long-term vision is to channel these resources toward pioneering services aligned with evolving community needs.
Steve Saltzman’s philanthropic contributions extend beyond DESK. He established endowment funds at the Jewish Foundation, backing a range of initiatives including; support for the Jewish Cemetery Association of Greater New Haven, Holocaust Education through the ADL, Friends of Jewish Heritage Poland, a PACE Fund (Perpetual Annual Campaign Endowment) for the Jewish Federation Annual Campaign, a Donor Advised Fund, and a LOJE fund (Lion of Judah Endowment) in memory of his late wife, Marilyn, to endow her Lion of Judah gift to the Jewish Federation Annual Campaign.
In the coming months, DESK will highlight Saltzman’s donation, by hosting an event in his honor. This exclusive gathering aims to inspire the community to join DESK’s “Legacy Society” and secure the future of essential community services in Greater New Haven.
The Saltzman Family Fund, DESK, and the Jewish Foundation of Greater New Haven exemplify transformative philanthropy’s power. Through donor collaboration, endowment expertise, and community commitment, these organizations will shape the future through impactful philanthropy.
DESK is a New Haven-based, 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization that serves people experiencing homelessness or living in poverty by providing food assistance and services that promote health, community, and equity. Each year, DESK serves more than 4,000 people through an evening meals program, a weekly food pantry, the Downtown Drop-in & Resource Center for people experiencing homelessness, and an overnight warming center. More information can be found at www.deskct.org.
Jewish Foundation of Greater New Haven promotes philanthropy with a variety of donors and community organizations to achieve charitable goals and increase current and future support for a vibrant and secure Jewish community by providing expert endowment management services and philanthropic advice and education to donors, professional advisors, and organizations. Discover more at newhavenjewishfoundation.org.
Luis Olmo-Rivera, Development Director Sarah Domena, Marketing Director
Downtown Evening Soup Kitchen, Inc. Jewish Foundation of Greater New Haven
475.227.3184 203.387.2424 ext. 384
Community has always been our key to success. In the past two-and-a-half years, COVID has made that clearer than ever. Not a day goes by at DESK when I’m not on the phone with one of our dozens of partners: businesses, schools, faith-based organizations, funding agencies, and—these days especially—other social service providers like DESK.
A strong community can meet the challenge of any crisis, whether it’s a global pandemic or our neighbors forced to live on the streets. That’s why we’ve forged a new partnership with our longtime friends at Loaves & Fishes.
I’m telling you all this because you should know that when you support our work, you’re not only supporting DESK; you’re supporting a community of providers.
Building a Community to Last
When it comes to helping people, New Haven is a great place to work collaboratively. In 2019, DESK became one of the founding organizations of the Greater New Haven Coordinated Food Assistance Network, or CFAN, a collaboration of more than 60 members and two dozen food pantries, soup kitchens, and other food assistance providers. I’ve had the honor of serving as one of the co-chairs since that time. CFAN has been instrumental throughout the pandemic in getting food out to underserved communities, coordinating “summer gap” meals for students in the New Haven Public Schools, and offering technical assistance and trainings to newer pantries just starting out.
DESK also works shoulder-to-shoulder with homelessness service providers through the Greater New Haven Regional Alliance to End Homelessness and the Coordinated Access Network (CAN). These groups bring together dozens of partners on a daily basis to coordinate street outreach, shelter, medical and psychiatric care, supportive housing, and financial stabilization. DESK’s new Drop-in & Resource Center plays a critical role as part of this system, offering a front door for those who are unhoused.
Designing the Olive Street Pantry
For many years, DESK has worked closely with Loaves & Fishes, a food pantry based out of the Church of St. Paul & St. James at the corner of Chapel and Olive St. Like DESK, the staff and volunteers at Loaves & Fishes believe in the importance of dignity and a client-centered approach to helping people access nutritious food. And, like DESK, they have pushed the limits and expanded their impact in recent years. With only two blocks between them and our new Drop-in & Resource Center on State Street, a partnership felt natural.
This summer, after months of preparations, we moved DESK’s Wednesday pantry to Loaves & Fishes’ building, blending some of our staff and volunteers and providing more coordinated services than ever before. With that, the Olive Street Pantry was born! The response from our “shoppers” has been very positive so far: less confusion, easier access, better experience. And that’s what it’s all about.
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At DESK, we’re not afraid to be bold, and we’re not resistant to change. Whether it’s launching new programs, forging new partnerships, or defining what it means to be more than a “soup kitchen,” DESK takes a modern, progressive, community-based approach. We build as big a tent as possible, and welcome as many as we can to dwell within it.
Your support today will help build a bigger tent by enabling a community to ensure basic, lifesaving needs and provide critical resources that will move individuals and families beyond homelessness and poverty.
Support your community by giving online at deskct.org/community.
And thank you for being a partner in our community!