By Lu Stanton León
Soup-to-Go is a lay-led ministry.
“It just started about a year-and-a-half ago, and delightfully, I had nothing to do with the beginning, the middle or what is happening right now,” says the Rev. Dr. Robert William Harvey, rector of Church of Our Saviour. “It is so lay led; it is wonderful.”
The idea for the program began when parishioner Olivette Guy-Williams attended a weekday service on a bitter cold March day in 2014. While there she ran into a regular visitor to the church’s food pantry, where volunteers distribute canned goods to those in need.
“I said at the time, with this weather, all he needs is warm bowl of soup,” says Guy-Williams, who describes herself as a retired, stay-at-home grandmother who cares for her grandchildren. “I asked the volunteer at the pantry, ‘When you give canned food, how do they open it? For people like that, how can they warm the beans?’
“So I said, ‘All these people need is a warm bowl of soup. I will talk to the rector and assistant rector and see what they think about it.’”
So began Soup-to-Go, a name that Guy-Williams modeled after the church’s annual Ashes-to-Go event. Located in the Hillandale neighborhood of Silver Spring, the Church of Our Saviour is just two blocks north of the New Hampshire Avenue exit of the Capital Beltway. Every day people without homes can be seen seeking donations while standing on traffic islands, on street corners, under bypasses.
Initially, Guy-Williams thought those in need would come to the church for the soup. For two weeks she made soup and offered it on a table on the church grounds. No one came.
Guy-Williams realized that many of those who needed a meal were busy seeking donations on street corners and couldn’t afford to leave their posts, so she changed tactics and decided to take the soup to them. Since then, a group of two to four parishioners meet every Thursday morning in Our Saviour’s kitchen to prepare homemade soup and then deliver it to about 40 homeless people in the area. In fall, winter and spring they distribute a pint of soup and a bread roll. In the summer they distribute a sandwich, chips and a bottle of water.
“Most soup kitchens expect people to come to the soup kitchen itself,” Harvey says. “So many of these folks can’t take the time. This is quite literally taking soup to people standing on the street corner.
“It is basically things we have in our food pantry, and then folks donate chicken or ham hocks, or some kind of meat. They put it in a container, get a bun, and take it out to the streets.” Tucked in with the food is a sticker identifying Our Saviour as the source of the food.
“They drive up as far north as Randolph Road and as far south as Langley Park, handing a cup of soup to people asking for money,” Harvey says of the volunteers. “The need is there for a whole lot more; the need far outweighs what we can reasonably do. We give the five loaves and two fish that we have.”
In a related ministry, Church of Our Saviour recently opened Maryland’s first satellite office of Samaritan Ministry of Greater Washington, a program that works with more than 1,000 people who are homeless or in need.
“David Wolf (executive director of Samaritan Ministry) has been targeting Our Saviour because we are right on the beltway,” says Harvey, who has long wanted his parish to get involved with the program. From 9 a. m. to 1 p. m. every Tuesday, volunteers from Our Saviour provide services include help with immigration issues, résumé building and providing computer and internet access.
Guy-Williams also volunteers with Samaritan Ministry.
“When I hand out soup, I tell them to go to Church of Our Saviour on Tuesdays if they need any help,” she says. “With the soup we have a sticker with the church’s name and address on it, and in the brown paper bag, we put the Samaritan Ministry brochure. Some of them do come.”
“Some of the people who come live right under the beltway, and those are the folks who get the soup first,” Harvey says. “It does go quickly. I went twice, and I was quite shocked by how quickly it went.”