To serve people experiencing homelessness or living in poverty by providing food assistance and services that promote health, community, and equity.
A world in which people come to us not because they have to but because they want to.
The basis of peaceful human interaction.
The most basic of human rights.
The resource that matters more than any other.
The best tool for the job.
The lever that moves both us and the people we serve.
We aim to make all services as accessible as possible, reducing hurdles and barriers, like eligibility requirements, paperwork, waiting lists, and questions, as best we can..
We aim to put the individuals we serve — their needs, their goals, their aspirations, and their dignity — at the focal point of our strategy in planning, executing, and improving all services, with particular attention to the wholeness and uniqueness of each individual’s experience.
We aim to deploy strategies that can reduce the risks associated with homelessness and parallel adverse experiences, while focusing on overall improvement of individual wellbeing in a non-judgmental and non-coercive manner.
We aim to ensure that those we serve not only have a seat at the table, but also provide the leadership and guidance to shape short-term improvements and long-term strategies.
In the 1980s, residents of New Haven began seeing something on the streets of our city that they hadn’t seen since the Great Depression: widespread homelessness. A myriad of factors created a perfect storm across urban America. Economic downturn, the crack epidemic, de-funding of federal social safety programs, the closing of state mental health facilities, and Veterans returning from an unpopular war without the government support they needed — all this led to a dramatic and unprecedented rise in homelessness.
In New Haven, the community responded. Several religious organizations collaborated to meet the need by opening shelters and founding soup kitchens. Among these was DESK. For over 30 years, Downtown Evening Soup Kitchen has provided dinner to people in need, right in the heart of our city.
DESK begins serving evening meals three nights per week, hosted at different locations each night by one of the three founding churches on the New Haven Green: Center Church, Trinity Church, and United Church.
With the help of Downtown Cooperative Ministries (later known as Interfaith Cooperative Ministries), DESK is incorporates as an independent 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization.
Over the course of the decade, DESK adds additional nights and additional partners, including First & Summerfield and Yale’s Slifka Center.
DESK expands its Evening Meals program to five nights per week, and begins providing groceries through a Food Pantry program twice per month.
DESK expands its Food Pantry program to weekly, and begins offering bagged lunches after dinner each night to support school age children, working adults, and others in need.
DESK partners with the Yale Hunger Heroes (a group under Dwight Hall’s Yale Hunger & Homelessness Action Project) to serve Friday evening meals during the academic year. Yale Hunger Heroes later changed its name to Yale Community Kitchen. Today, the YCK Coordinators serve as ex officio members of DESK Board of Directors.
Now preparing food exclusively at the Center Church Parish House at 311 Temple Street, DESK works with Center Church to renovate the facilities to meet commercial standards. Yale University assists by donating some equipment.
DESK centralizes all operations at 311 Temple Street, including food preparation, services, and storage, as well as the weekly Food Pantry.
DESK institutes its “Green Policy,” initially through our recycling program. Over years, DESK would expand recycling efforts, switch to reusable trays and utensils, and partner with New Haven Land Trust to compost organics.
DESK renovates storage facility, replacing old shelving and adding new commercial-grade freezers. DESK begins offering pet food during the weekly Food Pantry.
DESK begins offering a bi-weekly groceries to seniors to supplement the Food Pantry offerings with nutritionally-appropriate items. DESK works with Yale Hunger Heroes to add Saturday evening meals to the program during the academic year.In addition, another YHHAP group, DESK begins working with Kitchen-to-Kitchen (another group under the Yale Hunger & Homelessness Action Project) to accept prepared food from Yale Dining on a regular basis. By this time, DESK is serving annually over 104,000 prepared meals and 58,000 pantry bags.
By now, DESK is staffed by three full-time employees and relies on over 400 volunteers per month.
DESK expands its program offering again, adding a Kids Summer Pantry program. The program delivers age-appropriate groceries to 100 children living in supportive housing in New Haven on a weekly basis during the months that school is not in session. As a partnership with the Housing Authority, the program is made possible by a Community Development Block Grant from the City of New Haven.
Yale Hospitality offers to host an annual Breaking Bread Dinner to support DESK, generating over $50,000 for people in need over the first three years.
DESK focuses its internship program on students studying social work and nonprofit management.
Center Church offers DESK office space in its Parish House to accomplish administrative functions. DESK’s Board of Directors reorganize into multiple committees overseeing Finances and HR, Fund Development, and Programs and Services, while recruiting new Board members from the legal, financial, and social services fields.
DESK partners with the City’s Department of Elderly Services to offer a weekly sit-down lunch at the East Short Senior Center to low-income Seniors.
As many longtime volunteers begin hanging up their aprons, DESK expands its volunteer outreach efforts, particularly to schools and job-coach organizations, like Chapel Haven and Fellowship Place, eventually recruiting over 2,000 volunteers over a 12-month period.
DESK broadens a range of partnerships across the community, with organizations like Liberty Community Services, Columbus House, Cornell Scott-Hill Health Center, the Housing Authority, the Women’s & Family Center, Community Action Agency, and Yale Hospitality.
DESK partners with the United Way to offer its first Neighborhood Pantry, expanding further beyond Downtown to reach more people in need.
The Coronavirus Pandemic hits Connecticut. DESK joins organizations across Greater New Haven through the Coordinated Food Assistance Network and the Coordinated Access Network to respond to the needs of people experiencing homelessness and living in poverty. DESK takes a leading role in the development and implementation of CFAN’s Pantry to Pantry program, delivering pantry items to more than 1,100 households weekly through the spring and summer.
DESK purchases 266 State Street to serve as New Haven’s first Downtown Drop-in & Resource Center. Staff size and capacity are greatly expanded to meet the growing needs, as DESK focuses on serving the “whole person” through more than food and basic needs.
DESK Food Totals 2004-2011
|Pantry food bags||4,405||5,787||10,475||24,710||24,199||56,392||58,678||61,020|
Watch this video with DESK’s Executive Director, Steve Werlin, to learn more about our history, our programs, our culture, and our vision.