Murphy visits New Haven soup kitchen

New Haven Register

NEW HAVEN — U.S. Sen. Chris Murphy, D-Conn., seemed to enjoy his visit to the Downtown Evening Soup Kitchen Tuesday — enough so that he’s checking with his family to make sure they’re OK with him taking off for a few hours on Thanksgiving morning and returning to volunteer.

The one thing he didn’t enjoy was learning from Executive Director Steve Werlin that the demand for what the Downtown Evening Soup Kitchen and other feeders-of-the-needy do continues to increase.

“I’m disappointed to learn that the need is increasing,” Murphy said after a half-hour stint — wearing a blue DESK apron, a hair net and rubber gloves — chopping potatoes destined for 1,200 Thanksgiving dinner plates.

The potatoes had just been peeled by other volunteers from Southern Connecticut State University and James Hillhouse High School — including three of the five volunteers from the Hillhouse Junior ROTC program.

Asked why he came, Murphy said, “This is such an amazing community resource. Hundreds of people come here every night to get fed.

“They’re going to be running a massive operation on Thanksgiving to make sure that hundreds more, all throughout New Haven and New Haven area, have something to eat on Thanksgiving — and have somebody with a smiling face dropping it off at their home,” he said.

“I’m just down here to help them get ready for the night’s meal, but really just to say ‘thank you’ to all the great staff and volunteers who make a place like this work, so that’s the reason for being here,” Murphy said.

Assuming that Murphy’s wife doesn’t have anything else planned for them, he said he expected to be back at the Downtown Evening Soup Kitchen with his two young sons Thursday morning to help out.

Murphy’s fellow volunteers on Tuesday enjoyed the time with him.

“It was fun” working with the senator, said Jierah Reid, a Hillhouse senior and Junior ROTC member. While she was peeling potatoes, she also got to talk a bit with Ashley Munoz, a freshman Nursing major at SCSU, about the field, which is something Reid is considering going into.

“I wasn’t expecting” to be cutting potatoes alongside a U.S. senator, said Kevin Rodriguez, also a Hillhouse senior and Junior ROTC member. He came expecting just to do some work to fulfill his Junior ROTC community service requirement, he said.

Rodriguez said Murphy was a little different from what he might have expected a senator to be like.

“He was kind,” Rodriguez said. “He was a kind person to talk to.”

According to Werlin, the Downtown Evening Soup Kitchen, located at 311 Temple St., serves about 2,200 people over the course of a year through both its evening meal program and its food pantry.

It generally serves between 150 and 200 people per night, serving dinner at 5:30 p.m. — with a total of 1,500 volunteers working over the course of the year with DESK’s four staff members.

It has operated for 30 years, including more than 20 in its current building, as a joint mission of the churches around the New Haven Green, located for many years in the Center Church Parish House.

The Thanksgiving dinners DESK currently is preparing in addition to its nightly dinners are part of a big effort done in conjunction with about two other organizations and businesses in the city, Werlin said.

Among others, DESK has partnered with Yale University to use some of its institutional kitchen facilities to cook 115 of the 187 turkeys DESK is preparing to send home for people’s Thanksgiving dinners.

While Yale is allowing the use of its facilities, the Yale workers involved are volunteering their time — at a time when school is not in session and the dining facilities would otherwise be closed, Werlin said.

Also in the process of being prepared are 18 pans of carrots, 18 pans of stuffing and 18 pans of green bean casserole, said Downtown Evening Soup Kitchen Program Manager Meagan Howard.

Anyone who wants to volunteer for or donate money to the Downtown Evening Soup Kitchen can call 203-624-6426, e-mail info@deskct.org or go to www.downtowneveningsoupkitchen.com.