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

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


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

Donation Guide

Donation Guide

The people I work with will tell you that — for better or worse — I hate to say “no” to good intentions.  Whenever someone comes to me with a good idea, a bold, new strategy, or a helpful resource, I often can’t resist.  In fact, I find that balancing our resources and capabilities with all the creative and potentially life-changing possibilities for those we serve can be hard.

In my first year at DESK, I learned that, when it comes to good ideas and helpful resources, we should try to say “yes.”  And when we do have have to say “no,” we should always say “no, but . . .”

DESK relies heavily on community support in a variety of ways.  As a result, we get a lot of well-intentioned offers for help.  Sometimes, those offers just don’t quite fit.  That’s why I was very excited in 2019 when Elaine Piraino-Holevoet put together, with support from RecycleCT and Home Haven Villages, the first Downsizing Donation Guide for New Haven.  This is handy resource to help people who are looking to donate their gently used items to community organizations like DESK.

How to Donate Your Stuff

Step 1: Check DESK’s website!  Go go to to find lists of food, toiletries, clothes, and other items we regularly need.  If your item is on there, email us at  If you’re item isn’t on there, but you really think we might want it, just email us and ask!

Step 2: Check out the Downsizing Donation Guide.  You can peruse the table of contents, or just search the whole document (CTRL+F for PC-users).

Step 3: Still can’t find a place to donate?  Let us know.  DESK works with dozens of organizations and community groups across Greater New Haven; we’ve got a great network.  We’re always eager to make a good match . . . and equally eager to trade out that “no” for a “no, but.”

In memoriam: Robyn Smith

In memoriam: Robyn Smith

Yesterday, our staff said goodbye to Robyn Smith.  Robyn was, by any measure, an incredible person.  By day, she was a public defender, representing many of DESK’s clients over the years.  By night, she was a volunteer at DESK, right around the corner from her office in the courthouse.  More than that, she was a passionate supporter of and advocate for DESK’s mission in the broader community.  Robyn passed away just after Thanksgiving, when she spent the day distributing meals as part of our annual Thanksgiving for All program.  She touched the lives of so many in our circle, and she will be missed dearly by our volunteers, staff, and Guests.

With help from Ashley, our volunteer coordinator, I had the honor of eulogizing Robyn with the following words at yesterday’s memorial service:

DESK is a community-based organization, so working at DESK means you get to know a lot of people in the community: clients, Guests, donors, supporters, and, of course, volunteers.  And those who keep coming back, who make themselves fixtures within our walls, you get to really know them in a very personal way.  And I don’t mean details about their lives per se.  What I really mean is that you learn what drives them, their motivations, their passions.  At a community organization like ours, you get to find out who people really are deep down, what they’re all about.


This is the best part of working at DESK.


It is also, regrettably, the hardest part.  Because inevitably, we have to say goodbye.


Even our most passionate volunteers leave us at some point.  It’s joyous when they leave because they’ve graduated college.  And we understand when they leave to pursue a career in another state, or to start a family, or to take care of grandchildren.


But this one’s harder.  It’s hard to understand why Robyn left us.  Even impossible.  And it hurts.  A lot.


Robyn was a regular at DESK.  She didn’t just captain a monthly volunteer group from her congregation; she led that group.  She brought them together, imbuing the group with her own selflessness, love, and hilarity — and always with her characteristic smile, charm, and wit.  Last year, she brought the group to tour our new building because she was sure that this program was something they should know about and support.  Robyn understood the people around her; she could see what would interest them and get their juices flowing.  She was, in this respect, a real matchmaker: pairing those in need with those who could help.


And what is a matchmaker if not a problem-solver.  When it came to serving those most in need in our community, Robyn was determined to solve each problem that came before her, without hesitation.  When our clients faced eviction, I’d call Robyn.  And she would drop what she was doing and run up to the housing office in the courthouse.  No hesitation.  I’m on it, she’d say.  Call you back in an hour.


Robyn was a fierce advocate for DESK’s mission.  This past fall, she organized her annual food drive at the courthouse. On the Monday before Thanksgiving, Robyn came in with one measly box of canned goods and told us how disappointed she was.  Undeterred and unprompted, she announced, “I can do better.”  The next day, Robyn returned with a huge smile on her face and a thick envelope of cash and checks.  “I went around to all my coworkers,” she said, laughing through her words, “and I bullied them into donating.”  And then the next day, one day before Thanksgiving, Robyn came back again, with even more donations. She wasn’t done bullying.


The last time I saw Robyn was on Thanksgiving Day.  She showed up at 8:30 in the morning to help prepare and then distribute meals.  That afternoon, she was the last volunteer to leave.  I said goodbye to her outside by her car, and then I walked back inside to get my belongings.  When I came back out, one of our clients was waiting outside, asking if he had missed the meal service.  Many of the people we serve at DESK suffer from severe mental health disorders, so as a general safety practice, we avoid being entirely alone with clients, whenever possible.  So I asked the gentleman to wait for a moment while I ran back inside to throw together one more meal-to-go.  When I returned, I handed him the meal, he said “thank you,” and he went on his way.  Then I turned to leave.  And there, sitting in her car, waiting for me and smiling, was Robyn.  I said to her, “Rob, why are you still here?”  “Oh,” she said, “I just wanted to make sure you were OK.  I recognized that man, and I know that sometimes he can be a little out of sorts.”  I’m so grateful that the last image I get to have of Robyn is her smiling face and her gentle words of fierce protection, unrelenting kindness, and empathy for those who need it most.


Robyn left a permanent imprint on many of us at DESK, and we will never forget her: Robyn’s warmth, her love, her appreciation for family, friends, and those who give of themselves to others.  She understood the difficulties and dangers of the world around her intuitively, but, nevertheless, she was a true optimist and a model spirit.


It is so fitting that Robyn spent her last days organizing, leading, giving, advocating, and protecting those around her.  May we all be strong enough to follow Robyn’s example and her lead.

We love you, Robyn.  Thank you for allowing us to be part of your life and your story.

DESK Receives $1.4 million in Federal Appropriations Funding

DESK Receives $1.4 million in Federal Appropriations Funding

Thanks to the efforts of our incredible representative, Congresswoman Rosa DeLauro, DESK will receive more than $1.4 million in federal appropriations funding to support the renovations of our Drop-in & Resource Center at 266 State Street in Downtown New Haven.  With yesterday’s passing of the 2023 federal spending bill in Congress, the funding is all but assured, pending the President Biden’s signature.  From the press release:

“Through the Community Project Funding program, our agency will be able to quickly complete the renovations of our new Drop-in & Resource Center for people experiencing unsheltered homelessness, including the outfitting of a full medical clinic to serve unhoused individuals specifically,” said Steve Werlin, Executive Director of Downtown Evening Soup Kitchen in New Haven. “With more than 250 people living on the streets of our city, this new facility will provide immediate, lifesaving services alongside next-level services that will help people move beyond homelessness and toward overall stabilization and improved personal wellbeing, while alleviating a variety of public health concerns and freeing space in local emergency departments.  As a result, it’s an important benefit for the individuals we serve, as well as a major cost saver for the broader community.”

Merry Christmas, indeed! 🎁

Read the full press release here: