By Angela Lewis
At DESK, we provide opportunities to learn about the social-service needs on-the-ground in New Haven, and so for years, we have welcomed Social Work students from Southern Connecticut State University to volunteer with us. Angela Lewis—a junior at Southern—first came to DESK to fulfill her required volunteer hours as part of her major, but soon found the setting, the people, and the mission irresistible. She now volunteers most weekdays, from afternoon to evening. –ed.
Over the past year, I’ve volunteered regularly at Downtown Evening Soup Kitchen. I’m a social work major at Southern Connecticut State University, and it’s always been my passion to work for and with those who may need somebody on their side. I started out at DESK just as a way to get my hours done for school, but it quickly turned into something that I fell in love with. It started off as just two hours at a time, but that soon turned into a whole day; it became more than just something I had to do but something that I wanted to do.
Seeing all the people come in for dinner every night and being a part of not just filling their stomachs but getting to know them has made me see that there is so much that needs to be done.
I can’t even count the hours that I’ve spent at DESK; in all honesty, it has become my second home. I’ve enjoyed getting to know the staff, the other volunteers and guests. I have learned that everybody has a story and I’m having an amazing time learning so much.
Sometimes though, it gets to be overwhelming when I see how many people need to use the resources of DESK and places like it. There are families, older adults, and so many individuals that come in every night for a hot meal—and yes, it’s been a privilege to get to know each person, but I wish it was under different circumstances.
While it’s been a privilege, it’s also been a realization to serve at DESK. Being able to eat everyday should not be something that anybody has to worry about. It’s a worldwide issue, but we have to start locally if we are going to tackle it. There are so many individuals that need just a little bit of help and somebody to advocate for them. It’s not just people without homes coming in for dinner but mothers with their children and those individuals who don’t make enough to keep food on the table. It is our responsibility to help those who need some help. All the time, I think about how anybody can fall into the predicament of going hungry and how as a society we have to help each other out.
We can all do our part—whether it’s volunteering at DESK or some other soup kitchen, or raising awareness to this food access problem—the world would be a better place.
Having lack of food and shelter goes beyond money and jobs. So many are suffering from addiction and mental health issues, and are forced to navigate a difficult support system. Consider how that impacts individual lives. Many of us have preconceived notions or opinions of people that are too often labeled “homeless” and we don’t stop to think about the story behind the label; we just lump them all into one category. If for one moment all of us took the time to listen to the stories, I’m wiling to bet that there would be a change of heart.
DESK continues to have a humbling impact on me, and without it I wouldn’t be where I am today. I continue to learn each and every day I’m there, and these lessons I keep close to me. If somebody were to ask me “why DESK?” I would tell them because they care—the staff and the many, many volunteers. There is always somebody willing and wanting to lend a listening ear and sometimes that’s exactly what somebody needs.