Tuesday, November 5, 2013

Soup Night Stories

For today’s Soup Night Week post, we’re featuring stories of two Illinois-based soup nights. Though they reflect different models for creating a night based around building and feeding communities, the end results aren’t far apart and both inspire the thought: If you started a soup night of your own, what would it look like?

Karen Robbins

Grays lake, Illinois

The Robbins family is friends with the Dahlbergs (they live in the same town but different neighborhoods), and loved going to their Soup Nights. So when the Robbinses moved into their new home, they decided to start a Soup Night too. Their usual pattern is once a week, from early January to late February or early March.

“One thing I wanted to do,” Karen says, “was share what God has given me. I love to share my home. When I mentioned Soup Night to people, they were completely shocked that I would have people in my house that I didn’t know. But I never thought of it as work. The big payoff was getting to see everyone, especially in winter.”

The first year, Karen made handwritten invitations and delivered them to all the neighbors; they also invited about 30 friends from church and 20 other friends from their daughters’ school. From a slow start the first year, they now sometimes have as many as 60 people.

The Robbinses have developed a soup night checklist to make prep easier.

The Robbinses agreed to do this as a family. Their two teenage daughters have specific jobs, and Karen has developed a checklist to simplify the preparations; thanks to her for allowing me to share it with you. Some other logistics they have developed over the years:
  • A mix-match collection of bowls picked up at sales, stacked beside the stove where two big soup pots are kept simmering.
  • Spoons, napkins, and whatever food contributions others bring (breads, appetizers) are laid out on the dining room table. The desserts are on a separate table so the kids don’t grab them first.
  • They now send invitations by e-mail, with a reminder the day before. Everyone is asked to sign a guest book, so new people can be added to the list. The invitations specify no RSVP is needed, just come if you can. “I love to see the connections develop,” Karen says. “Once I watched two women start chatting, and pretty soon they were crying. Turns out they were talking about adoptions, which can be pretty emotional.”

The Robbinses found, after five years of Soup Nights, that families have more complicated schedules as their children get older. So they took a break in 2012, only to find that people were always asking about it. But when I think about Karen’s last comment to me, I have a feeling they will start up again: “People used to sit on their front porches and visit with whoever walked by. Now we don’t even know our neighbors, much less visit with them. We’re all too busy to socialize. It’s not healthy. It’s just not healthy.”

Community Soup Night

Logan Square Kitchen
Chicago, Illinois

Noah Stein is a young man on a mission: getting families involved in projects that promote healthy living — in particular, urban farming.

In Chicago neighborhoods, as in much of the country, community gardens are a very popular way for people without traditional garden spaces to grow fresh produce. Noah, a Chicago native who returned home after living in California for several years, was struck by what he describes as the “territorial nature” of community gardens there.

To break through that, he hit upon the idea of a community soup night. The overall goal is to get people who are involved in community gardens and gardening in general to know each other, to share ideas and resources. “Sharing soup,” he says, “is of course an age-old idea.”

He found a perfect venue in the Logan Square Kitchen, a commercial kitchen and event space committed to sustainability. He recruited volunteers to help with cooking and cleanup, got local grocers to donate bread and crackers, and found a sponsor in a local food co-op that offered him wholesale prices.

Noah did all the organizing, but “people I had never met came to help wash dishes. Some people brought desserts; we didn’t ask, they just showed up.” Sitting together at long tables, people were meeting each other for the first time and making good connections.

Soup Night is held monthly, on Tuesday evenings. There is no specific charge, but donations are welcome. At the first event, February 2011, more than 50 people attended; the next month, 75; and the third month, 100. Noah is especially pleased that about 25 percent of those attending are children. Getting whole families involved was his main goal.

Text excerpted from Soup Night © 2013 by Maggie Stuckey. Photo © Lara Ferroni. All rights reserved.

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Hosting your own soup night? Let us know! 
Storey will host its very own Soup Night on Thursday, November 7. We’re gathering our neighbors and community members together for a fun night of networking and food. We encourage you to host your own Soup Night on November 7, or in the months to come. Stay tuned to our social media channels all week for recipes and tips for getting started.

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