William Porayouw, Contributing Photographer

On Sunday, Yale postdoctoral research fellow Nour Al-muhtasib and New Haven’s Downtown Evening Soup Kitchen handed out winter care packages to those in need, including members of the unhoused population in New Haven.

In an event that took place outside the soup kitchen, which is also known as DESK, volunteers — many of whom were Yale postdocs — handed out around 151 care packages to those in line. Alongside winter clothing such as gloves and scarves, the packages included toiletries and snacks donated by DESK and the public. 

Al-muhtasib started the initiative back when she was living with a friend in Washington D.C. in 2018, and she continued her work upon moving to New Haven to complete her postgraduate studies at Yale.

“I always wanted to give back,” she told the News. “Wherever I lived, no matter what.”

Al-Muhtasib said the wealth disparity between Yale and New Haven reminded her of the relationship between Georgetown University, her alma mater, and Washington D.C. 

She reached out to fellow postdocs over social media as well as Yale’s Postdoctoral Association to seek volunteers willing to help serve the community alongside her. She received monetary donations through services such as Paypal and Venmo.

“People are actually more willing to give [than you think],” she said. “People are trying to find hope and trying to find ways to help because they don’t see a lot of hope right now.”

From her past experiences making care packages, Al-Muhtasib has learned to focus on understanding the people who she serves. 

She recalled that in the first year of her initiative, she had made equal numbers of bags that contained menstrual products and those which didn’t — and realized that not as many people needed the products as she had thought.

“I learned to look at the number of people who were unhoused,” she said. “It’s important because it tells you what to make.”

Bags were distributed for children, adults, teenagers and infants. Donations to the care packages ranged from school supplies and toys for children to formula and oatmeal for infants. 

Volunteer and zoology postdoctoral candidate Anupama Hemalatha was enthusiastic about the work she was doing on the project.

“I’ve always admired this initiative since Nour started it in 2018,” she said, “for giving us a chance to actually contribute and be a part of New Haven.”

Ever since moving to New Haven, Hemalatha has become more cognizant of how harsh weather can affect unhoused people in the city. 

“When you come here, you worry about the winter,” she said. She added that she worries “how people are going to survive, especially with homelessness.”

Volunteer Calvin Fang GRD ’25 provided transportation for the event. He met Al-muhtasib once she arrived at Yale, after collaborating with her lab on a project. From there, he became interested in the service she was doing. Fang saw the event as an “opportunity to help the community.” 

Hemalatha said she appreciates the sense of community that events like Sunday’s cultivate.

“I think it’s beautiful the way people are coming up,” Hemalatha said.

Al-Muhtasib plans to continue to host the event yearly with the next one scheduled for 2022.

WILLIAM PORAYOUW