Even a local ‘soup kitchen’ suffers under Covid restrictions

My Quaker Meeting is part of two local ecumenical groups, one of them providing free twice-a-week community suppers for people in need. Our dinner guests are the homeless, especially, and others living in subsidized housing, but nobody asks questions as we welcome anyone who simply shows up. Each congregation cooks and serves its own menu on a monthly rotation. We Quakers do barbecued chicken thighs, mashed potatoes, and cole slaw, with pulled pork as the previous feature. Hey, it’s yummy and something nearly everyone likes. I love the rare times we have leftovers.

Even though the event is commonly called a soup kitchen, none of us serve soup anymore. The term simply points back to the tradition’s origins. The Methodists do lasagna. The Greek Orthodox do American chop suey and Greek salad. You get the idea.

So when our hosts at the Episcopal church decided to close their hall during the duration of the Covid-19 crisis, a concern for the dinner’s guests led to an exemption. The various congregations could still use the kitchen, but all the food would be takeout, something restaurants were later also ordered to do, while sit-down dining was prohibited.

It’s not the same, of course. We’re getting less than half of the turnout, but many are asking for two meals, to share with others, as well as an extra for the next day. So we’re happily dishing out about the same amount of food.

What we’re really missing is the community interaction. Many of the regulars enjoyed this as a time to socialize without having to spend precious cash on a place to sit. Better yet, this place was free of alcohol. Many would come early and stay till closing time, when an AA group prepared for its own meeting.

Another factor in shifting to takeout is that many of the volunteers are retirees in a Covid-19 susceptible range. Many of them are staying self-isolated, reducing the pool of workers. Usually, with everyone on board, it’s a kind of party, but when everything falls on just a few, things can be stressful. We’ll see.

But I do wonder if that’s what tipped one congregation to call in some caterers. That, or a desire to help our suffering local restaurants, too.

One other influence to consider is transportation. Our region is served by two public bus systems, both of them shut down by the coronavirus, and that may be keeping some of the regulars from getting to the church social hall.

What similar sorts of adjustments are you seeing where you live?

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