$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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DESK Celebrates the Start of the 266 State Capital Project with “Wall-breaking Ceremony”

DESK Celebrates the Start of the 266 State Capital Project with “Wall-breaking Ceremony”

Downtown Evening Soup Kitchen, Inc. (DESK), kicked off the renovations to their Drop-in & Resource Center at 266 State Street today with a “wall-breaking ceremony,” featuring Congresswoman Rosa DeLauro and Mayor Justin Elicker. The celebration marked the start of a much-anticipated capital project to renovate DESK’s facilities, where unhoused individuals are connected to a variety of services.

The conceptual design of the project began in 2019-20 with a series of interviews, focus groups, and a half-day workshop that brought together people with lived expertise, providers, volunteers, community stakeholders, law enforcement, and City officials. A major step toward the goal of creating New Haven’s first low-barrier, Downtown Drop-in & Resource Center (DRC) was realized in December 2020 when DESK purchased the three-story building at 266 State Street. The following April, DESK launched the DRC as a day program, open 1:30-5:30, Sunday through Friday—all the while, working in the background to acquire the funding, design the architectural plans, and plan for the renovations.

The 266 State Capital Project is a $3.875 million construction project funded by a combination of public and private sources, including $1.438 million in federal HUD Community Project Funding, $500,000 from the state Community Investment Fund, $200,000 in state ARPA funding, $150,000 in City of New Haven CDBG funding, $150,000 from Cornell Scott Hill Health Center (medical clinic underwriting), $114,000 from Connecticut Foodshare, $100,000 from Yale New Haven Health Systems, and $100,000 from Yale University. In addition to these institutional funders, dozens of private individuals have contributed to the project. Over the coming seven months, as the construction is underway, DESK will raise the remaining 15 percent of the funding through private sources.

While addressing the crowd in attendance, Mayor Justin Elicker stated, “We have a crisis right now with housing across the nation, across the state, and in our city. That is something that people in this room know all too much. Groups like DESK not only partnered with us along the way but also pushed us to think differently about how to provide services.” Once completed, the new Drop-in & Resource Center will include a modern, energy-efficient commercial kitchen, additional office space for program staff, a full medical clinic (staffed by Cornell Scott Hill Health Center’s Homeless Healthcare Department), and additional consultation and meeting space for partnering agencies.

“Just as we’re doing literally today, this is a program that breaks down walls,” said Steve Werlin, DESK’s Executive Director. “This is a place of connection, where people in need build trust and relationships that lead to both basic, life-saving needs, as well as support services that improve overall quality of life.”

Congresswoman Rosa DeLauro was on hand to deliver the initial “break in the wall,” donning a hardhat and swinging a heavy mallet. “Over the years, [DESK has] grown to respond to the increase and the need with more complex services that people need—progressive strategies and empathetic approaches.,” she said.

While construction continues, DESK will operate its Drop-in & Resource Center program in the basement of the Church of St. Paul & St. James at 57 Olive Street, with the same schedule (Sunday-Friday, 1:30-5:30 pm).

The project’s architect is Ninth Square-based Svigals + Partners, lauded for their trauma-informed designs of New Haven’s Ronald McDonald House and the Sandy Hook School redesign. Doug Lovgren explains that “SVIGALS + Partners is delighted to support DESK in its important mission to support unhoused individuals in our city, and that the firm’s mission is to utilize architecture and design to support our community.” Construction is being overseen by PAC Group, known for a variety of healthcare and clinical facility projects across Connecticut.

More information on the 266 State Capital Project, including the architectural plans, funders, capital campaign committee members, and how to support this critical work can be found at deskct.org/capital.

About Downtown Evening Soup Kitchen:

Founded in 1987, 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 a nightly dinner program, a weekly food pantry, and New Haven’s only low-barrier, Downtown Drop-in & Resource Center for unhoused people. More information can be found at www.deskct.org.

You can also find media coverage of this announcement at WTNH, New Haven Independent, New Haven Register, and Yale Daily News.

How many cooks does it take to cook over 1,260 gourmet Thanksgiving meals?

How many cooks does it take to cook over 1,260 gourmet Thanksgiving meals?

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.

History Lesson

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.

 

Thanksgiving-for-All Was Truly-for-All

Thanksgiving-for-All Was Truly-for-All

Hundreds of calls were made to potential recipients by IVCG friends and volunteers. Schedules were drawn up by IVCG during November to ensure timely, efficient meal deliveries by its volunteers on Thanksgiving Day.

We give thanks to the hundreds of extraordinary volunteers, many of whom worked long hours in the days leading up to Thanksgiving to ensure this community effort was a success. The day was marked by the community coming together to serve those most in need.

We would also like to give a special thanks to First Congregational Church of West Haven, Knights of St. Patrick, The New Haven Chapter of the Links Incorporated, Temple Emanuel of Greater New Haven, Hopkins School, Chabaso Bakery,  Christopher Martins, and all event day sponsors who all played a major role in ensuring the success of Thanksgiving-for-All.

 ***

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.

IVCG is a 501(c)(3) social benefit volunteer-based organization that shares experiences, rides, food, and other services – primarily with seniors – that cultivate connection, support wellness, and relieve loneliness and isolation. Interfaith Volunteers are neighbors who help neighbors live lives of connection and care, with seniors at the heart.

More information can be found at www.carenewhaven.org.

Thanksgiving-for-All

Was Truly-for-All

Luis Olmo-Rivera, Development Director
Downtown Evening Soup Kitchen
lolmorivera@deskct.org – (475) 227-3184

Richard Davies, Vice Chairperson
Interfaith Volunteer Care Givers
daviescontent@gmail.com – (914) 391-0480

WNPR: Addressing misconceptions around food insecurity: ‘It’s about more than food’

WNPR: Addressing misconceptions around food insecurity: ‘It’s about more than food’

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.

 

GUESTS:

 

Cat Pastor contributed to this episode which originally aired October 26, 2023.

Impactful Philanthropy Unites DESK, Saltzman, and Jewish Foundation

Impactful Philanthropy Unites DESK, Saltzman, and Jewish Foundation

[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.

Contact:

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