New Haven's DESK, Christopher Martins Partner for Thanksgiving Meals

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Volunteers at the Downtown Evening Soup Kitchen (DESK) were preparing for their weekly food pantry Wednesday afternoon. This week, it was all about the staples of a Thanksgiving Meal.

“We’re also giving out turkeys today as well, and most of the turkeys were collected from donors through CT Food Share and other providers as well,” said Steve Werlin, executive director of DESK.

The pounds of poultry were among carloads of food donated recently to the organization.

“We have been extremely busy in the last the last two weeks. Constant donations, like yesterday we had like eight carloads of donations throughout the day,” said DESK volunteer Alma Vera.

High School student Charles McLean helped organize one of those donations from the Engineering and Science University Magnet School. They were able to bring in three carloads on Wednesday as well as a $1,000 donation.

“I’ve been volunteering at DESK for as long as I can remember,” McLean said. “My parents were doing this when I was a kid. I’ve had a long relationship with them and it’s just so rewarding. It’s just great to help.”

Also tucked inside the trailer full of turkeys are 700 to-go meals donated from Yale Hospitality. They’ll be hand delivered to homebound residents Thursday for the group’s annual “Thanksgiving for All” event. It’s the second year the soup kitchen is offering pre-made boxed meals.

“This year, we still felt uncomfortable having so many volunteers in the space so we spoke to our partners at Yale and we asked if they would be willing to do that again and Christopher Martin came into it and offered to do the same,” Werlin said.

Christopher Martins co-owner Brian Virtue of says Thanksgiving is his favorite holiday. They too weren’t ready for the large-scale event they’ve hosted in the past for those in need.  

They were looking for a way to give back this year, so they’re donating 350 pre-packaged meals.

“It makes me feel good that we can give back some way or the other you know,” said Virtue. “But it’s been a big tradition here and it’s missed.”

That tradition is the 300 people in need that, pre-pandemic, would sit down for a meal served in the restaurant’s dining room. Then, they’d have the opportunity to choose among donated clothing and food.

The entire event takes about 100 volunteers. This year, a handful of staff are packing the to-go plates.  

“We’re going right back to our normal next year. We were hoping to do it this year, but we just didn’t feel right asking volunteers in this climate. It just wasn’t right,” Virtue said.

But what is right this year is the chance to give away 1,200 meals, double the number given away during 2020, and just shy of the 1,500 handed out before the pandemic began.

“I think it’s nice that we can still find ways to help everybody,” Vera said. “We’ve a lot of volunteers who are willing to drive and hand deliver meals I think that means the world.”

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