Megan Vaz, Contributing Photographer

This school year, local restaurant Claire’s Cornercopia has partnered with two Yale organizations — Smart Women’s Securities, or SWS, and the Yale Child Study Center — to raise funds and resources to benefit the greater New Haven community.

The restaurant has a lengthy history of giving back to the city’s underprivileged and youth populations. Its partnership with the Yale Child Study Center, which first kicked off in September 2021, includes the Somebody Cares Closet, a hygiene bank set up to provide for socioeconomically disadvantaged children. More recently in April 2022, Claire’s partnered with SWS, Yale’s all-female finance group, through its “Cupcakes for a Cause” sale. Proceeds from the ongoing sale will go to the Community Fund for Women & Girls in Greater New Haven, which is the city’s “only endowment promoting the social and economic advancement of women and girls.”

“Our motto, which is painted right on our soffit, is ‘The only compelling reason we’ve been given more love than we need, more food than we need, and more resources than we need is so that we may share with others who have been given less.’ Period,” said Claire Criscuolo, the restaurant’s founder and owner.

In the past, Claire’s has collaborated with Yale groups and city nonprofits for a variety of philanthropic projects. Criscuolo noted that “Cupcakes for a Cause” has had several incarnations over the years to work with different charities, but the COVID-19 pandemic put a halt on the sales program. According to Criscuolo, Claire’s has frequently worked with New Haven Reads and Yale’s Camp Kesem in the past.

SWS first reached out to a manager of Claire’s, Erin Guild, to pitch the charity event. Criscuolo, who was “sold on it immediately,” noted the importance of women’s empowerment in the community and her own life. Dipanshi Sharma ’24, the chief philanthropy officer of SWS, shared that she and other members of the organization decided to get involved with the Community Fund after reflecting on Yale’s “isolated” nature from the city. The Community Fund has hosted events on topics ranging from valuing care workers to the “Me Too” movement, in addition to providing educational opportunities and mentorship programs for young women and girls. The sales event began on April 10 and will end on May 10.

“The Community Fund is such a great organization,” said Sharma. “Basically women and girls, and also organizations that support the economic advancement of women and girls in New Haven, can come to this fund or request grants, or send out newsletters about things like women’s reproductive rights. And we’re hoping that this money just helps further that mission.”

Meanwhile, the restaurant’s longer involvement with the Someone Cares Closet began after Carolina Parrott, clinical instructor of social work in the Child Study Center, visited Claire’s wearing her Child Study Center badge. Criscuolo, who has always focused on youth and family outreach through the restaurant’s philanthropy efforts, noticed Parrott’s badge and the two began to discuss ways to serve the community. Criscuolo shared that after doing research, she felt mobilized to help children who experienced academic, social and health problems because they could not afford access to hygiene products. The issue of hygiene poverty in New Haven stuck out to Parrott and other clinicians at the Child Study Center, leading to a collaborative project with Criscuolo that sought hygiene and household product donations from the community.

According to Parrott, Criscuolo began asking customers to drop off any hygiene or personal products at the restaurant, and the two later distributed letters to the community bringing awareness to hygiene poverty in the city. Now, the Child Study Center has an inventory of products that client families, which are often socioeconomically disadvantaged, can request items from. Parrott said that she and Criscuolo meet at least once weekly to drop off donations and discuss the program’s progress.

“At this point, because we’re starting as a pilot program and starting out with just the families at the Child Study Center, we have a good amount of donations — we definitely still need more to grow bigger and really serve the community,” Parrott told the News. “She’s been really thoughtful about that.”

Criscuolo emphasized the importance of addressing these community issues, honing in on the restaurant’s aim of empowering local youth. On the store’s work with SWS and the Community Foundation, she pointed out that she “[stands] on the backs of women who came before [her]” and mentioned difficulties she faced in her youth as a female swimmer unable to join a team without the existence of Title IX. She reflected on how she became more aware about the impact of hygiene poverty on children’s overall wellbeing after speaking with a restaurant team member who she knew had a difficult upbringing. 

The restaurant and its partner organizations say they still need more help from the community — especially from Yale students. Criscuolo says she wants to spread information among Yale students about other projects the restaurant has been involved with. This includes ongoing hygiene drives and the Huneebee Project, which gives youth who have experienced trauma or hardship in the foster care system the opportunity to learn about beekeeping and creative arts. 

“I think people realize that this is important,” Criscuolo said. “I’d love to see you guys find a way to help us with that, because if you get the word out — I mean, students are so generous and kind.”

Claire’s Cornercopia was established in 1975.

MEGAN VAZ
Megan Vaz covers Yale-New Haven relations. Originally from South Florida, she is a first-year in Pierson College majoring in history.