Our Mission

To serve people experiencing homelessness or living in poverty by providing food assistance and services that promote health, community, and equity.

Our Vision

A world in which people come to us not because they have to but because they want to.

Our Values

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.

Our History

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.

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    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.

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    With the help of Downtown Cooperative Ministries (later known as Interfaith Cooperative Ministries), DESK is incorporated as an independent 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization.

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    Over the course of the decade, DESK adds additional nights and additional partners, including First & Summerfield and Yale’s Slifka Center.

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    DESK expands its Evening Meals program to five nights per week, and begins providing groceries through a Food Pantry program twice per month.

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    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.

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    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.

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    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.

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    DESK centralizes all operations at 311 Temple Street, including food preparation, services, and storage, as well as the weekly Food Pantry. DESK institutes “Green Policy” and begins recycling.

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    DESK began going “Green” in 2008 by recycling all recyclable items.

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    DESK renovates storage facility, replacing old shelving and adding new commercial-grade freezers. DESK begins offering pet food during the weekly Food Pantry.

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    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.

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    By now, DESK is staffed by two full-time employees and one part-time employee, and relies on over 400 volunteers per month.

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    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. DESK also 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’s staff expands to include two full-time and two part-time employees. 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.

For additional information on DESK’s history, as well as a full financial and business profile, please visit our page on the Community Foundation for Greater New Haven’s giveGreater.org site.

DESK Food Totals 2004-2011

  2004 2005 2006 2007 2008 2009 2010 2011
Evening meals 30,218 44,406 49,671 78,016 100,660 101,963 112,324 117,250
Pantry food bags 4,405 5,787 10,475 24,710 24,199 56,392 58,678 61,020
Bag lunches 6,102 6,280 5,872 6,800 8,700 11,980 17,880 18,160

Watch this video with DESK’s Executive Director, Steve Werlin, to learn more about our history, our programs, our culture, and our vision.