Soup for You! is building community one bowl of soup at a time

Posted on 21 December 2016 by calvin

soup-for-you-04Story and photos by MARGIE O’LOUGHLIN
Chef Judah Nataf creates two different and tantalizing vegetarian soups five days a week, all year long, at the Soup for You! Café. The café is located in the basement of Bethany Lutheran Church at 2511 E. Franklin Ave. A modest wooden sign marks access to the café on the west side of the church building.

soup-for-you-17Photo left: Former server Sarah Matanah (pictured right) said, “I liked working in the kitchen, but my job kind of got in the way. Now I just come back when I can. I feel happy when I’m here; I think it’s the combination of being in a community space and eating good food. There’s little money involved in anything that happens at Soup for You! and somehow that makes everyone feel happier too, more generous. It’s like zucchinis in the summer. The more you have, the more you want to give away.” Friend Pam Burrows is pictured left.

Nataf is a masterful soup maker who once spent a year living under the Franklin Ave. Bridge. He and his team of volunteers are clear that they aren’t running a soup kitchen—they’re offering a community meal. The two-hour lunch is served from 11am-1pm, Monday through Friday. It operates café-style with servers taking orders and delivering meals to each table with a smile.

The made-from-scratch soups feature organic ingredients and real cooking wizardry, the kind of food typically not available to people in search of a free meal. The recipes are determined by what ingredients there are to work with. In warm months, much of the produce is donated by local gardeners. Chef Judah usually arrives at 6:30am to start preparing the day’s meal.

soup-for-you-20Photo right: John Harkness put finishing touches on the day’s lentil-cranberry soup and said, “We serve about 70 bowls a day, around 1,000 bowls each month. We also sell quarts of soup at $9 per quart, or $7.50 with a punch card. The actual cost of making a bowl of organic soup is about $1.

The soups are so tasty that people that work or live in the neighborhood regularly come for lunch, generating revenue that can be used to cover the cost of meals for those who can’t afford to pay.

Diners pay whatever they feel is a fair price, whatever they’re able to, or nothing at all. The program’s goal is not to draw new members to the church, but to build community across ethnic, racial, educational, and economic lines. A hand printed sign outside the kitchen proudly states, “Over 20,000 bowls of soup served since Feb. 2, 2015,” which was opening day.

Long-time Bethany church member Brad Laudert said, “I’ve been part of this congregation since I was three years old. We’ve got the whole spectrum of customers down here sharing soup together—everyone from people experiencing homelessness to Augsburg College professors. There’s no separation.”

“This congregation has a long history of partnering with the community,” Laudert continued. “Soup for You! Is an extension of that. Our next project, building a shower and laundry facility for people experiencing homelessness, will be another extension. Thanks to a generous donor, the construction costs for that have already been paid. We’ll need volunteers to help build and paint, as well as donations of sweats for people to wear while their clothes are being laundered, towels, soap, and shampoo. In addition, we always accept donations for our clothing exchange. Cold weather items for men are especially needed.”

soup-for-you-15Photo right: Dannie Drinkwine Jr. said, “This place is about relationships. If you’re on the receiving end of services like having to stay in a shelter or receiving economic assistance, you can feel dehumanized. What Judah and all the others have created here is a beautiful food program where everybody is welcome.”

Laudert noted that “you don’t enter into a project thinking, ‘I’m going to help the whole world.’ You enter into a project thinking, ‘I’m going to help someone.’ Then that person helps another, and that person helps another, and before you know it, you’ve got something good going.”

Chef Judah said that “The Soup for You! Cafe would never have happened without Bethany Pastor Mike Matson’s help, enthusiasm and support. In many churches, establishing a cafe like this would have taken months of committee meetings and miles of red tape.”

To make a donation of money, clothing or time to the cafe contact Judah Nataf at 612-978-7974.

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