‘Soups On’ at Camden’s First Congregational Church is community lunch spot
CAMDEN — A bowl of hot and hearty soup can carry different meanings for people. Maybe it is chicken soup to ease the discomfort of a cold, or a memory of a favorite soup that we consumed as a child. This reporter remembers her favorite combination of Campbell’s tomato soup and a toasted cheese sandwich, perfect after playing in the snow with neighborhood friends.
The media has even poked fun at the popularity of a good bowl of steaming soup. The television show, Seinfeld, featured the colorful character, the “Soup Nazi,” whose secret concoctions lead customers to wait in long lines and cause some of the show’s cast to shake with trepidation when they ordered their soup.
And then there is also the social aspect of soup with folks gathering around bowls of the homemade entrée, often adding a loaf or two of crusty bread.
The social and fellowship qualities of soup have been the theme for the past 13 years at the First Congregational Church’s “Soups On,” a weekly lunch where about 70 people of all ages gather every Wednesday, at noon, in Camden.
This year, the season for Soups On began October 25 and will run until March 28.
The free lunch program was started by the church in the fall of 2005, as a community gesture to fight the winter doldrums while providing a nutritious hot meal to those in need, those who are lonely, and for those who simply enjoy the company of others while eating.
Local musicians, including the Route 17 Ramblers, Paper Moon and Rusty Hinges have been volunteering their time over the years by adding background music during the lunches.
All ages of people are welcome to attend the lunches and during school breaks or after early dismissals, you will often see kids joining the adults.
There are a few tables that feature “regulars” every week. They come early, before the lunch begins, for conversation and some stay long afterwards even while the tables are being stored away.
One of the benefits of writing about a community lunch is sitting down and experiencing the event’s menu first-hand. I chose Valentine’s Day for my culinary adventure.
My lunch meal included a bowl of white bean and sausage soup with fresh kale topped with homemade croutons with garlic and parmesan cheese and homemade bread. Dessert was an artistically decorated vanilla cupcake topped with a heart shaped chocolate candy resting on a mound of rich pink frosting and another surprise morsel of chocolate at the bottom.
I also tasted the second soup, a vegetarian chili, but was too full to really dig in and top my bowl with the sour cream and shredded cheddar cheese accompaniments.
Besides the delectable lunch, “Paper Moon” was the musical entertainment that day, featuring Phil Clement on guitar, who sang some vintage tunes including one of my favorite Frank Sinatra melodies, “Fly Me to the Moon.”
Each week approximately 20 volunteers including cooks, wait staff, clean-up crew, servers, plus the sexton at the church, Wayne Berry, all work seamlessly as a well-oiled team to make the lunches happen. Even though the crew prepares for an average of 70 guests per week, sometimes there have been as many as 90 people attending.
Debbi Hitchings, the program’s “Soupervisor,” said: “We are grateful for the opportunity to provide a weekly community gathering place, and we hope that everyone will feel comfortable coming to share some delicious, homemade soups. Through the generosity of our loyal volunteers, other local churches and local food purveyors, this program has become a true mark of hospitality for our community.”
Additional volunteers are always needed and Hitchings encourages anyone who is interested to contact her at email@example.com.
There are five weeks left for Soup’s On so stop by the First Congregational Church on a Wednesday at noon if you are in the neighborhood. You may see some familiar faces but if not, join a table with an empty seat and meet new folks. Between the commaradie and specially prepared meal, you will not be disappointed.
The following are some annual statistics for Soups On, based on a 21 week season of serving the community:
Soup: 10 gallons served per week = 210 gallons of soup
Bread: 10 loaves served per week = 210 loaves of bread
Attendance: About 70 guests served per week= 1470 guests
Volunteers: 18 per week = 378 volunteer shifts
Reach Sarah Shepherd at firstname.lastname@example.org