Fellowship and Split-Pea Soup
They serve soup but would rather not be called a soup kitchen. Big tureens of creamy split pea with ham soup, or a thick sausage-and-potato porridge, all served with warm, freshly baked bread worthy of a patisserie.
Irondale Evangelical Free Church started serving weekly free soup suppers to its Port Hadlock, Wash., community in August 2011 after the local community center requested help. The center had prepared inexpensive meals for seniors for years. But the persistent recession eventually reduced those meals to twice each week, with some patrons needing to pay as much as $5 per meal.
After Irondale EFC stepped in, church volunteers decided to offer their home-cooked meals to anyone in need, not just seniors. Indeed, the weekly soup service has attracted the full diversity of its own community, from kids to seniors. Church members are never sure how many diners will show up each week, but the church hall usually fills up, and then some.
The nation’s tough economy has affected everyone, and things are no better in Irondale—about a two-hour drive from Seattle to the Olympia Peninsula (including a ferry ride that traverses Puget Sound). This squall-swept, semi-rural community barely two blocks from the sea started out with high industrial hopes, relapsed into depression around the beginning of the 20th century and never quite recovered. “It’s always been hard times here,” says Pastor David Hodgin.
“And now,” adds church council member Kim Wilcox, “there’s an air of hopelessness.”
Although the national economy has begun to recover a little, unemployment here has remained around 10 percent, and locals are increasingly motivated to move to Seattle to find work.
So the free soup suppers meet a definite need, and the quality is quite good—“all pretty much from scratch,” Kim confirms. Church members do all the cooking and baking, serving anywhere from 50 to 80 people, of all ages.
While the main dish can always be called “soup,” volunteers still like to mix the menu up a bit, perhaps offering pork stew or even jambalaya. Other favorites have been taco soup, chili and pumpkin soup, which they happily ladled out around Thanksgiving. And afterward: homemade desserts.
Although Irondale EFC asks for donations, there’s no pressure, financially or theologically. “No sermon, no strings” is how David Hodgin puts it. The church doesn’t differentiate between members and nonmembers, and everyone is welcome, no questions asked. They’re just trying “to do good,” he says.
“This is truly faith in action,” agrees Jessica Dillon, a community activist who helps out with civic projects. “It’s more about fellowship than the soup.”
New state laws now recognize “donor kitchens” and extend some latitude. But when the church started its soup suppers in 2011, it had to pass muster through a complex approval process. Irondale Church had already been serving occasional suppers out of its community hall since it opened in 2008, so “we were already pretty much in conformance,” David says.
Interest in the weekly soup suppers has continued to grow, and more community members have offered to help out, both financially and as volunteers.
Irondale Church is doing more than feeding those in need; it is also providing a community connection of faith and fellowship that is a durable reminder that people do not live by bread—or soup—alone.