Soup Kitchen Caldwell
To: Anna C. Kelley, CEO and BACH Creative Board of Directors
From: Jordan Caldwell
Subject: Soup Kitchen Definition Memo—Sustainable Ruston Task Force
Date: January 11, 2017
The purpose of this memo is to define a soup kitchen in order to gain a better understanding as to what a soup kitchen is, the history of soup kitchens, and the demographic trend of soup kitchens.
A soup kitchen is “a place where food is served at little or no charge to the needy” (“Soup kitchen”). Soup kitchens are open on weekdays during lunch or dinner. Historically, soup kitchens only served soup, but the modern soup kitchen serves a variety of meals like casseroles, sandwiches, and different kinds of pasta. These meals come with a side, such as a fruit or vegetable, beverage, and dessert. In addition, soup kitchens serve an array of people who are in need of food.
The History of Soup Kitchens
Soup kitchens have evolved since their origination in the eighteenth century. Count Rumford, a cook for the Bavarian military, was trying to create an inexpensive meal for the soldier. Count Rumford began making different soups containing “pearl barley, peas, potatoes, cuttings of fine wheaten bread, vinegar, salt, and water.” His soups were soon used in soup houses for the poor in Europe and North America due to their inexpensive cost and large yield. In 1802, the Humane Society of New York City began selling tickets for meals at their newly established soup kitchen. These tickets were sold to businesses and organizations with intentions to later distribute the tickets to the poor. However, this created a negative attitude towards soup kitchens. Civic leaders saw these tickets as aimless handouts that supported being poor. This led to a decline in popularity of soup kitchens and the eventual closing of many throughout the country (“Soup Kitchens”).
The Great Depression, a period of economic downfall from 1929 to 1939, began the rebirth of soup kitchens (Pells and Romer). Many unemployed Americans relied on soup kitchens to provide their only meal of the day. Figure 1 shows a soup kitchen sponsored by Chicago gangster, Al Capone, with a line of Americans waiting to enter (“Social Security”). Once government assistance and support programs, like social security and food stamps, were established, the need for soup kitchens waned. However, soup kitchens reopened in the 1980s due to increased hunger among Americans (“Soup Kitchens”).
Currently, there are over ninety-four thousand soup kitchens and other local food programs in the United States. All of these soup kitchens are part of a larger network to provide emergency food relief. For example, soup kitchens work with organizations like Feeding America, a nationwide network of food banks, who supply a portion of their food to them. Soup kitchens also combine with large nonprofit organizations, like churches, that provide the facility, equipment, financial resources, food, and volunteers to run the operation. Other programs, such as government commodity distribution programs and community food drives, provide soup kitchens with additional resources (“Soup Kitchens”).
Soup kitchens are commonly located in major towns and large cities. Approximately twenty-one million people, such as the homeless, unemployed, elderly, working poor, and disabled, rely on soup kitchens and other food programs every year. Since soup kitchens are found in various locations, the population demographic varies (“Soup Kitchens”). Feeding America, the network of food banks who supply soup kitchens, collected the national racial demographics of the individuals in which they serve as shown in Figure 2. Although minorities appear to be a small portion of Feeding America clients, they are more likely to go to soup kitchens than Caucasian individuals. Also, one in four African Americans will seek soup kitchens compared to one in ten Caucasians (Borger et al.).
Soup kitchens provide meals to people who cannot afford to feed themselves. These people come from different backgrounds and have different personal situations, but they are all welcome at the soup kitchen. Throughout history, the structure of soup kitchens has changed along with the meals that they serve, however, the original mission of the soup kitchen to feed the hungry has remained the same.
Borger, Christine, et al. “Hunger in America 2014.” Feeding America,
Pells, Richard H., and Christina D. Romer. “Great Depression.” Encyclopedia Britannica, Encyclopedia Britannica, Inc., 27 Oct. 2017, www.britannica.com/event/Great- Depression.
“Social Security.” Social Security History, www.ssa.gov/history/acoffee.html.
“Soup kitchen.” Dictionary.com, Dictionary.com, www.dictionary.com/browse/soup-kitchen.
“Soup Kitchens.” Encyclopedia of Food and Culture. . Encyclopedia.com. 9 Jan. 2018