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Olive Street Pantry

Olive Street Pantry

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

And thank you for being a partner in our community!

Taking the “Downtown” out of DESK

by Nishanth Krishnan

In 2019, DESK hosted Nishanth Krishnan, a rising junior at Yale, as a full-time intern through the Yale President’s Public Service Fellowship program.  Nishanth oversaw a pilot program based in Fair Haven, as a partnership with the United Way of Greater New Haven.  Today, Nishanth remains highly engaged as one of the co-directors of the Yale Hunger and Homelessness Action Project, an oversight group for numerous student-run social action projects at Yale, based out of Dwight Hall, as he prepares for medical school.—ed.

For food-insecure families in New Haven, the summer can be a challenging time to make ends meet. Generally, households with children can rely on subsidized meal programs run by the New Haven Public Schools to provide their children with consistent meals each day. However, when the school system enters summer break, these programs can become limited or entirely inaccessible for families who continue to need them. This challenge places strain on families who are already struggling to ensure that everyone at home can eat. 

Addressing this problem became the focus of my internship at DESK this past summer. As a Yale President’s Public Service Fellow, I joined the staff in May and learned that DESK was already in talks with a local partner, the United Way of Greater New Haven, on how both organizations could partner to work on the issue. After being brought up to speed, I joined in on conversations with staff and our partners to begin putting together a plan. Our talks were centered around Fair Haven, one of New Haven’s lowest-income neighborhoods with a high proportion of families with children.

Soon, the elements of a project came together; my job was to help DESK launch an off-site food pantry in Fair Haven to provide a consistent source of nutritious food to families in the neighborhood over the summer. We soon found a willing partner in the Church of St. Francis & St. Rose of Lima, located in the heart of Fair Haven. The site was chosen so as to be easily visible and close to families with children. In the following weeks, I coordinated with DESK’s Kitchen Manager, Meagan Howard, on choosing appropriate food items. After a little online shopping, we soon had tents, coolers, banners, and other supplies to help bring DESK out of Downtown. Ahead of the last day of school, I rode my bike out to the school at St. Francis & St. Rose of Lima to ensure every student received bilingual flyers with the program’s details.

On July 2, the Neighborhood Food Pantry launched with the help of volunteers from DESK and the United Way. I was pleasantly surprised to find that word-of-mouth had already spread: that day alone, over 60 people received bags containing produce, frozen meat, and kid’s snacks. As with all new operations, there were several kinks that had to be worked out. For one, we had run through all the food we had allotted for the first day! Across the next several weeks, the pantry operation became more streamlined and adept at serving the growing number of patrons visiting our Neighborhood Pantry. The operation ran until the day before the local schools reopened. By that time, the program had served more than 250 unique families representing over 500 children among them.

Learning to oversee a pantry provided invaluable experience and proved to be deeply rewarding. My internship engrained me with new leadership skills, since the challenges of improving the pantry tested me on effective communication, foresight, and collaboration. More importantly, I met countless New Haveners who shared with me their unique histories and backgrounds. I am grateful that DESK provided me the resources to launch this pantry and for encouraging me to think bigger about what I aspired to accomplish. Like the rest of the wonderful staff at DESK, I hope the lessons from this summer will lay the foundation for future programs like it to serve children in New Haven for years to come.