To serve people in need by providing food assistance and services that promote health, community, and equity.
For 30 years, the Downtown Evening Soup Kitchen (DESK)
has served people who are experiencing homelessness or living in poverty in
Greater New Haven. DESK began its
history by serving dinners three nights per week, rotating among the downtown
churches of New Haven. Today, we are
open five nights per week all year round and partner with Yale Hunger Heroes who
provide dinner on Friday and Saturday nights during the academic year.
The story of DESK is the story of urban poverty over the last thirty years. In the 1980s, there emerged an epidemic of homelessness that hadn’t been seen on the streets of New Haven since the Great Depression. Along with a few other local social service nonprofits, DESK was born out of an overwhelming need, on the one hand, and a passion for service, on the other. As with some of our sister agencies, the early days of DESK were driven by the faith-based community, including the three churches on the New Haven Green (Trinity, Center, and United), Young Israel House and the Slifka Center at Yale, First & Summerfield, and St. Paul & St. James Episcopal Church, to name just a few. These community groups opened their doors and opened their hearts, renewing a sense of a hope and public service in our city.
Over the years, DESK became a little more formal, hiring a fulltime Chef and Executive Director, and finding a permanent home at the Center Church Parish House (on Temple St., behind the New Haven Free Public Library). Today, we operate a professionally-managed commercial kitchen that serves over 150 people nightly at the height of the summer.
But our grassroots background continues to drive our work. With a three-person staff, we still rely upon volunteers to stock shelves, prep dinner, bag-up lunches, clean the dining room, and serve dinner. Our weekly pantry is almost entirely staffed by volunteers. Our volunteer groups are no longer limited to faith-based congregations, but include social and civic organizations, local businesses and public sector offices, and schools. DESK is incredibly fortunate to benefit from the passion and dedication of those volunteers who serve our clients regularly and warmly.
Today, DESK continues to serve nightly meals, provide bagged-lunches, and operate a weekly pantry where we offer not only groceries, but toiletries and pet supplies, as well. In addition, DESK expanded its services last summer by participating in the interagency Kids’ Backpack Program. As we look toward the future, we are considering new ways to help our clients through enhanced and expanded services that recognize the changing needs of those we serve in an economy and city in flux.
In the past year, the Downtown Evening Soup Kitchen (DESK) has continued to increase the overall number of meals served and unique lives affected. At the same time, DESK has enhanced our services by promoting client-choice at our weekly pantry and has strengthened our long-term stability through strategic planning.
The current year presents a range of new opportunities. In February 2017, the Board of Directors appointed a new Executive Director with the expertise to provide more efficient and professional administration, improved services, and a bold strategic vision for the organization. Specifically, in the coming year, DESK will explore programmatic partnerships to offer additional services; DESK will design more pronounced standards in nutrition and health; and DESK will find new ways to assess our services through qualitative and quantitative data collection.
In the current fiscal year, DESK will enhance administrative operations while designing a renewed strategy the improve program services. Specifically, DESK's needs are as follows:
In February 2017, I was thrilled to accept the Executive Director position at the Downtown Evening Soup Kitchen. When I moved to New Haven in 2011, DESK was my first volunteer experience in my new home, and since then, it has held a special place in my heart.
As it does for many others. I have met many volunteers and clients in my first weeks at DESK, and the common theme that permeates each encounter is community. Whether it is the volunteer who has been coming every week for a decade, or the guest who dines with us each night, or the board member who is new to our city altogether—each individual comes with a commitment to one-another. And at its core, that’s what DESK is all about.
The DESK community draws on a desire to serve our clients through understanding. We believe that when volunteers interact with those in need—when they shake the hands of our guests and give them a smile and a sympathetic ear—they are building connections. These are the ties that bind.
We also believe in good health. Many of our guests each night are suffering from a variety of physical and behavioral health ailments. By providing nutritious dinner and groceries in a safe and welcoming environment, DESK’s volunteers and staff are encouraging people on the path to recovery and stability.
Ultimately though, we believe in equity. I envision a world in which DESK’s evening meals are seen primarily as an opportunity for friends and neighbors to sit down and break bread together, reaching across tables to shake hands and exchange stories—rather than as a place people come merely because they have nowhere else to eat. Community-building alone is not a solution to food insecurity and malnutrition, but it is part of the complex set of solutions to addressing poverty and, I believe, an eventual indicator of increased equity among the people of Greater New Haven.
By building community, promoting health, and striving for equity, DESK is enacting solutions to serve those in need.
DESK is located in Downtown New Haven but serves people from all over the city and surrounding suburbs. Our centralized location allows for relatively easy public transportation options for guests coming from all over the New Haven metro area.
The ultimate change or long term success that results from these food programs is that the food insecure of greater New Haven can receive basic food in a consistent, safe and nutritious manner. DESK has taken great care to capacity build in operations throughout the last few years. DESK has renovated the food pantry providing commercial refrigerators, freezers and stainless steal shelving that has directly helped to provide for the increase of food needed, it has increased the variety of food and delivery times. In addition, DESK has invested in staffs that are Chefs and have experience preparing foods for large numbers. These Chefs have also brought more variety & nutrition to all DESK's meals. In addition, DESK has partnered with many community partners that have been crucial in a variety of DESK operational & funding needs. Sustainability has also been a long term success for DESK. DESK has been recycling all recyclables since 2008. Operations also went from stryo foam plates & cups to reusable trays & cups that are washed daily. This certainly has been a long term success. But by far the greatest long term success for DESK is it's 25 year record of consistency of service and ability to use it's resources to inrease services as needed.
DESK documents and monitors its programs with the following measures: # of daily evening meals, # of daily bag lunches, # of people served, demographics of people served, % increase of daily evening meals served, % increase daily bag lunches, #volunteer /community service participation, increase & diversity of funding sources, donor data: # and type of donor #/% of new donors, % of donors that increase donations over time.
DESK Food Programs
# Evening meals served
Pantry food bags
# Bag lunches
DESK operates a weekly food pantry on Wednesday from 2:00 to 4:00 pm, where staff and volunteers distribute groceries. The food items available include canned and dry goods, fresh produce, and frozen meat when available. The program also makes available toiletries and hygiene products, as well as pet supplies.
The ultimate change or long term success that results from these food programs is that the food insecure of greater New Haven can receive basic food in a consistent, safe and nutritious manner. DESK has taken great care to capacity build in operations throughout the last few years. DESK has renovated the kitchen providing commercial refrigerators, freezers, steamer, convection oven, gas oven and are furbished dishwasher that have directly helped to provide for the increase of food needed, it has increased the variety of food and delivery times. In addition, DESK has invested in staffs that are Chefs and have experience preparing foods for large numbers. These Chefs have also brought more variety & nutrition to all DESK's meals. In addition, DESK has partnered with many community partners that have been crucial in a variety of DESK operational & funding needs. Sustainability has also been a long term success for DESK. DESK has been recycling all recyclables since 2008. Operations also went from stryo foam plates & cups to reusable trays & cups that are washed daily. But by far the greatest long term success for DESK is it's 25 year record of consistency of service and ability to use it's resources to increase it's programs as needed.
DESK documents and monitors its programs with the following measures: # of weekly food bags, # of people served, demographics of people served, % increase weekly food bags, #volunteer /community service participation, increase & diversity of funding sources, donor data: # and type of donor #/% of new donors, % of donors that increase donations over time.
Food Totals Served by DESK 2003-2010
# Pantry food bags
DESK documents and monitors its programs with the following measures: # of weekly pet food items, # of people served, demographics of people served, % increase pet food items, #volunteer /community service participation, increase & diversity of funding sources, donor data: # and type of donor #/% of new donors, % of donors that increase donations over time.
Before joining DESK, Mr. Werlin was most recently part of the Development team at Columbus House, Inc., one of the largest service providers for people experiencing homelessness or at risk of homelessness in Connecticut. He also served as the President of the Board of Directors for FISH of Greater New Haven, Inc., another local food assistance agency. He co-chairs the Social Action Committee at Congregation Beth El-Keser Israel and has been on the Community Advisory Board for the Connecticut Public Broadcasting Network since 2012. He holds a terminal degree in Nonprofit Management from UConn, as well as a Ph.D. from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.
DESK partners with the following organizations who provide financial, in-kind, and/or volunteer support:
Indirect Public Support HelpIndirect public support represents revenue received through solicitation campaigns. This includes funding United Way and other federated fundraising organizations, but does not include donor designated contributions.
Earned Revenue HelpEarned revenue represents income generated in direct exchange for a product or service.Earned income includes income from government contracts.
This profile, including the financial summaries prepared and submitted by the organization based on its own independent and/or internal audit processes and regulatory submissions, has been read by the Foundation. Financial information is inputted by Foundation staff directly from the organization’s IRS Form 990, audited financial statements or other financial documents approved by the nonprofit’s board. The Foundation has not audited the organization’s financial statements or tax filings, and makes no representations or warranties thereon. The Community Foundation is continuing to receive information submitted by the organization and may periodically update the organization’s profile to reflect the most current financial and other information available. The organization has completed the fields required by The Community Foundation and updated their profile in the last year. To see if the organization has received a competitive grant from The Community Foundation in the last five years, please go to the General Information Tab of the profile.
A strong community not only meets its members’ basic needs but also works to create long-term solutions to their problems. Provide people with affordable housing, enough to eat and access to affordable health care and you enable them to envision a better future for themselves.
Greater New Haven’s vibrancy is linked to its communities’ support of its neighborhoods, public gardens and sports, as well as its commitment to the protection of its people and pets.
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