Taking the “Downtown” out of DESK

by | Dec 8, 2019 | Food Pantry

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.