Columnist Daniel Cantor Yalowitz: Celebrating Stone Soup Café
|Published: 12-18-2023 6:00 AM
This week marks my fifth year as a volunteer chef at Stone Soup Café. This anniversary enables me to reflect on all the good the café has done for Greenfield and beyond, and the staff, board, volunteers, and friends who circulate through this pay-what-one-can café. I have been so moved by “the work” and its many gifts that this past May I signed on as a member of Stone Soup Café’s board of directors. In September, I was elected to the role of vice president of the board.
Stone Soup Café has expanded its outreach, programming, paid and volunteer staff, vision, and mission — all for the betterment of local communities. The work of the café is to strengthen local food systems, provide equitable access to healthy food, and helping to decrease food instability in Franklin County.
The café offers much more than hot and healthy meals. We have a “truly free” community store that provides organic produce, groceries, and personal care products. Last spring, we opened Stone Soup Culinary Institute, providing a multi-week intensive training program at no cost to participants (based on our active and successful fundraising campaigns).
In May, six adults graduated, having developed newfound confidence and competence regarding kitchen, cooking, and service skills. Stone Soup Café also organizes and staffs the annual Harvest Supper; there have been years when more than 1,000 people have been served!
Yet, there are challenges. We are challenged to gracefully incorporate the tremendous growth of personnel that is integral to our evolution. Stone Soup Café is challenged to maintain a budget serving more than 600 meals weekly in addition to 85-100 households through its Free Store.
Volunteers support all this by coming together on Fridays and Saturdays to implement every aspect of these programs and services. The café needs volunteers in more than a dozen roles that make Stone Soup an exemplar of how to feed everyone healthy, made-from-scratch, gluten-free food. We especially need volunteer drivers who can provide weekly delivery of meals to those who don’t have access to cars or rides. In 2022, we had more than 500 volunteers supporting our endeavors.
With its dedicated staff, volunteers, and board of directors, Stone Soup continues to thrive and to uphold its mission: “to create community space where all are welcome to share nourishment, connection, and learning for body, mind, and spirit.” The approach we utilize is not a charity model; rather, it is a mutual aid model where we strive to recognize the equality between those who give and those who receive. In each we see the other.
Prepping, cooking, packaging, serving, and delivering our Saturday meal, and other specials throughout the year, is a gift that keeps on giving. For all involved in production, sharing their time, energies, and talents make it a haven for giving so that others may receive. Many of our 100-plus regular volunteers would say that their service is a gift to them. They are learning, sharing, observing, creating, collaborating, and problem-solving. This is done in a spirit of openness, trust, and collegial support.
Rare is it that an organization lives its values at such a high level. Scores of local folks who have received Stone Soup meals come away deeply impressed with the kindness that is displayed. Of course, there’s the food itself!
New volunteers and helpers are happily eased into the work and are supported to learn its nuances, the organization’s history, and how to be most effective and efficient within their designated roles. Ongoing interactions using open communication create space for all to voice opinions, offer feedback, and become more deeply involved. In short, the many constituencies within the café form a community within a community. What if life at large could mirror the Stone Soup experience?
The leaders are steeped in the power of nonviolent communication, social and emotional intelligence, compassionate listening, and inclusivity. Last year, our executive director/executive chef (two full-time positions rolled into one person!) deservedly was named the Recorder’s “Citizen of the Year.”
Beyond this recognition, the dozens of people who power Stone Soup may not receive external fanfare, but their consistent commitment, energy, and spiritedness create a strong sense of synergy that radiates beyond the café. Interested and qualified people are offered opportunities to take on leadership to better help both the organization and those involved to stretch and thrive. All who engage in the work and delight of the Stone Soup experience have a “can do” attitude.
In a region that suffers the pains of food instability, Stone Soup Café offers a respite from the struggles many have in their daily lives. Beyond serving food, creating service opportunities, and advancing positive values throughout the community, it offers one other thing that is in short supply these days: hope. There is hope to be found in the weekly menu, the multi-course meal, and in the smiles and joy of Stone Soup Café volunteers, from chefs to drivers to line staff.
As we move deeper into this year’s holiday season, consider making an offering, perhaps of your time, special talents, a financial contribution, or whatever else moves you to help our neighbors to live healthier and more sustainable lives. Please reach out to us at stonesoupcafe.org or through our website at thestonesoupcafe.org, especially if you’re interested in volunteering. We are always open to new folks trying us out!
Daniel Cantor Yalowitz writes a regular column in the Recorder. A developmental and intercultural psychologist, he has facilitated change in many organizations and communities around the world, and he is former chairman of the Greenfield Human Rights Commission.