A West Side mutual aid project is raising money to continue its weekly meal giveaways.
Soup for the Soul was launched in late 2020 to help Lawndale families experiencing food insecurity. Organizers envisioned the weekly meal distribution as a safe place where the entire community could find human connection in a time when many struggled with isolation.
Organized by the GROWSS committee of the North Lawndale Community Coordinating Council, Soup for the Soul volunteers gave out about 200 hot meals, plus 200 bag lunches 2-4 p.m. Mondays outside Stone Temple Missionary Baptist Church, 3622 W. Douglas Blvd., this year.
But with its initial funds running dry and coronavirus cases spiking again, the group is asking for donations to ensure the program can continue without interruption. The group previously raised $10,000 to fund the food giveaways for the past year, and it has raised the goal to $20,000 to cover future costs.
You can donate to Soup for the Soul at the groups’s GoFundMe. As of Tuesday, organizers are about halfway toward their goal.
November marked the one-year anniversary of Soup for the Soul, and the program has been well-received by the community, said Andrea Lee, a member of the GROWSS committee and external affairs manager at UCAN.
What started as a food giveaway grew to be a meeting place where residents could be connected to other needed resources. Soup for the Soul now hosts the Urban Growers Collective’s mobile market bus, which gives away $10 worth of produce to each person who stops by. Residents can also get free books from Open Books, and volunteers hand out donated warm clothes to people who need them.
A successful fundraiser will ensure Soup for the Soul can continue to be a reliable resource for residents, Lee said.
“These types of things take time to build. Our consistency being out here weekly has made a big difference,” Lee said. “Once you have a time and location where you know people are going to be giving away stuff, people come to get those things. And others know they can give away their own things if they have something to offer.”
Consistency is so critical since many resources offered in Lawndale end up being unreliable or only temporary, said Mamie Gray, volunteer and GROWSS member. The program must continue uninterrupted since it has expanded beyond just a mutual aid project into a place where neighbors meet, connect and grow as a community, she said.
“We’re really building a community that way. The people who are coming are coming again,” Gray said. “That’s part of the foundation of cooperation and trust and consistency. That’s what’s been lacking in our community is consistency. So many things are here one day and gone the next.”
As Soup for the Soul has become a constant fixture, more residents have volunteered and participated in feeding their neighbors, Lee said.
“Now we have a lot of residents from nearby apartments that are coming out to help and taking ownership,” Lee said. “For an effort to be really adopted by the people who live here and take it on as their own is a really important piece. That’s where it becomes more transformational for the people involved and the community.”
Resident Earnest Miller often volunteers and brings his own food to give away because he’s seen how hard it is for many families to get enough healthy food, he said.
“It’s my community. I have to give something to contribute. They give so much to me, this is my way of giving back,” Miller said.
Since Soup for the Soul happens along a main corridor in the neighborhood with several schools nearby, it makes it easier for residents to stop by to get the food, said frequent volunteer Barbara Stewart. The community-driven food program is also intentional about breaking the stigma and shame around food assistance so people feel comfortable taking the free meals, she said.
“A lot of people don’t access the services they deserve. They’ll never come ask for an essential service,” Stewart said. “It’s in the neighborhood. They’re familiar with seeing people in the neighborhood. It’s a hand-to-hand, neighbor-to-neighbor transaction.”
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