by Kaitlyn Spear
DESK prides itself on offering an internship program that fosters up-and-coming leaders in our community and in the social services sector. This past summer, we were very fortunate to have hosted Kaitlyn Spear, a rising senior at the University of New Haven. Kaitlyn worked exceedingly hard over the summer, often under some very difficult (and hot) conditions. We wish her all the best in what we’re sure will be her successful endeavors! –ed.
As a student studying Criminal Justice-Victim Services at UNH, I was excited to begin my journey with DESK this past summer. During my internship, I had the opportunity to oversee the weekly Food Pantry program and the Summer Kids’ Mobile Pantry, both of which provide groceries to people in need. Coordinating with staff members to ensure both programs ran smoothly taught me many transferrable skills and valuable lessons, but the most eye-opening part of my internship was speaking with and getting to know the people we served.
My internship was the first consistent involvement I had with any soup kitchen. Although I participated in community service activities prior to applying for the position, DESK was the first place where I was able to create bonds with the people I was there to help. Every week I would see many of the same faces and enjoyed learning about their lives. The staff and volunteers at DESK take the time to understand the complexities of each individual’s story and are always working to create a respectful, inviting environment for everyone. After all, for many of the Guests, time in the soup kitchen is not just about eating a meal, but rather making connections within the community and feeling welcome.
Every Wednesday afternoon, DESK greets community members and invites them into their main dining area where volunteers help distribute groceries and other necessities as part of the weekly Food Pantry program. Clients are provided with a variety of food ranging from fresh produce, to canned fruit and vegetables, frozen meat, bread, and other items. Additionally, DESK works hard to develop relationships with donors and retailers to ensure that their clients receive pet food, toiletries, and feminine hygiene products when available. Personally, the weekly Pantry was what I looked forward to most during my time at DESK. Every week I was presented with new challenges, but I truly enjoyed the hands-on experience. There is something remarkable about opening your doors to 120 or more individuals and being able to make their lives a little bit easier by simply providing food and a warm smile. While I ran this program I was humbled to see how grateful all of the clients were and how much of an impact DESK’s work has on the community. By the time my last day rolled around, many of the Pantry clients were giving me hugs goodbye and wishing me luck with my future endeavors at school.
I sought out this internship hoping to help the organization develop its programs, however, I left realizing that DESK made a much larger impact on me. For my senior year at UNH, I enrolled in a service learning course, and I look forward to interviewing and documenting the stories of individuals who live in poverty and experience homelessness with the hopes of changing current policies to better assist. Downtown Evening Soup Kitchen affirmed my love for human services and I will always be appreciative of the staff and clients for making my experience so worthwhile.