Who Will Run the Soup Kitchens?

by | Mar 26, 2020 | Formation, Homelessness, Reflections | 2 comments

I had originally planned to begin a series about the practical do’s and don’ts when encountering homeless people. But with so many areas under lockdown, I suddenly realized pressing another problem I had not thought about. Who will run the soup kitchens? What happens to people who rely on soup kitchen and pantries.

As I thought about it I realized this was another manifestation of the question of competing values similar to last week’s reflection. Is it better to put volunteers and the needy at risk by keeping important services open, or to stay home, knowing people will go hungry as a result?

When I searched Google I found I was not the only one asking this question. Jay Willis in a reflection for The Atlantic asks that exact question. “Who Will Run the Soup Kitchens?”  (Kudos to The Atlantic for making all their articles on the COVID 19 free!)

The dilemma!

How balance the needs of those who rely on soup kitchen and pantries, especially the homeless, with the pubic health concerns around transmission either by a vulnerable population or to another vulnerable population since so many volunteers are elderly?

As this country’s public-health crisis of homelessness collides with the public-health crisis of the coronavirus, service providers are grappling with a terrible dilemma: Is it better to show up, potentially exposing yourself and those you serve to a deadly infection? Or is it safer and more responsible to stay home, knowing people will go hungry as a result?

This is the problem faced by the Rainier Popup Kitchen volunteers in Washington. Their first option was to explore alternative models of serving. They moved to a grab-and-go model, filling more than 100 bags with sandwiches, fruit, water bottles, vitamin C packets, and pamphlets, Volunteers over 60 were instructed to stay home, and anyone feeling sick was also barred from helping with off-site food prep. But that was not really satisfactory!

A painful decision!

In the midst of so much uncertainty, for each individual, determining how to proceed boils down to part judgment call and part educated guess. “It’s a reasonable choice for people who are volunteers to say, ‘I need to stay home because I can’t put my family at risk.’”

Finally, they held a call to discuss their rapidly dwindling options. After almost two hours of debate, the group arrived at a reluctant consensus: The kitchen would close indefinitely.

It was a gut-wrenching decision since they realized that they the only source of food their neighbors might have.

There are so many decisions like this. How have you adapted? Please share what is working in your area.


  1. Nancy Burlage

    Cathedral Kitchen in Camden, NJ is still serving dinner. The guests are invited to use the restrooms and wash their hands. Then they take their pre-wrapped hot meal, water, and bagged food to go. Normally, they would be seated in the large dining room. They have other services there which are still available. Their website is at cathedralkitchen. org.

  2. denise singleton

    The Good Karma Kitchens in Ashtabula ohio are still up and running. Our number of “guests” has tripled this month, but so far we are managing it. We had to make it to go only with strict no contact policy. masks and gloves used. our city has only 3 soup kitchens open now because of closures. we have planned with the other kitchens to make sure there is one open every day.

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