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Volunteers of America Soup Kitchen in Washington, D.C., 1936.
A soup kitchen, a bread line, or a meal center is a place where food is offered to the hungry for free or at a reasonably low price. Frequently located in lower-income neighborhoods, they are often staffed by volunteer organizations, such as church groups or community groups. Soup kitchens sometimes obtain food from a food bank for free or at a low price, because they are considered a charity.


The concept of soup kitchens hit the mainstream of U.S. consciousness during the Great Depression. One soup kitchen in Chicagomarker was even sponsored by Italian mobster Al Capone in an effort to clean up his image. Inventor Benjamin Thompson, contemporary to the Founding Fathers of the United States, is said to have invented the soup kitchen.


Besides the obvious social/political issues of community acceptance, there is much involved in setting up a soup kitchen.

The Society of St. Vincent de Paul in Pontiac, Michiganmarker, cites the following considerations and issues for their "Nutritional Center":

  • Volunteers
  • Paid employees
  • Food Sources
  • Food Transportation
  • Other kitchens in the area
  • Inventory of kitchen supplies
  • Check the dishwasher, freezers, coolers, grease traps, etc.
  • Check the city codes and food handler certificates
  • Liability insurance
  • Tax status
  • Rodent control
  • Supplies
  • Set goals and objectives
    • Type of meals to be served.
    • How and where will they be prepared?
    • Who will be served?
    • Will there be any eligibility requirements?
    • When will the meals be served?
    • Support
    • Funding
    • Other goals besides supplying meals

And this list is only to set up a soup kitchen and get prepared to operate one. Once the operation is started, there are ongoing needs to manage the operation and to adhere to strict health and food safety rules and regulations. It is advisable to develop a set of operational objectives in terms of meal nutrition as well as service standards so that both volunteers and paid staff alike work by an accepted set of goals.

A 1985 pilot study found that 95% of homeless men served by a soup kitchen had vitamin deficiencies. This shows the need for emphasis on selecting menu ingredients containing appropriate vitamins including Vitamin C and B-9.

And reporting key statistics is important in determining trends as well as meeting accepted goals of the kitchen. For example, St. Luke's Episcopal Church in Eastport (Annapolis, Marylandmarker), reports serving (all services including food bank distributions) as many needy families and individuals in the first calendar quarter of 2009 as in all of 2008.

Further Reading


  1. "Soup Kitchens" Social Security Online History Page.
  2. "The Shadow Behind Our Founding Fathers: A traitor, a scientist, a womanizer and an enigma" review of Nicholas Delbanco's The Count of Concord Book World p. 9, June 22, 2008, The Washington Post.
  3. American Journal of Public Health "Nutritional status of men attending a soup kitchen: a pilot study" G T Laven and K C Brown 1985 August; 75(8): 875–878.

See also

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