How to Start a Soup Kitchen and Help the Homeless
Published Nov 8, 2021
Starting a soup kitchen is not a walk in the park. It entails sacrifices and commitment. So if you’re planning to open your very own soup kitchen, know that you’re in for a rough journey ahead.
Don’t get me wrong though. Starting and running a soup kitchen is definitely a challenge. But it’s also one of the most rewarding undertakings one can do. Besides, if we are to look at the numbers, the world needs soup kitchens now more than ever.
According to the United Nations, as many as 811 million people around the world faced hunger in 2020 – the highest in more than a decade. Of these, about 12 to 21 million rely on soup kitchens and food pantries. This underscores how important soup kitchens are, especially for people who have nowhere to go.
If you’re really determined to go down this road, here’s a quick guide on how to start a soup kitchen.
What Does a Soup Kitchen Do?
In a nutshell, a soup kitchen is a place where the poor and destitute can get free meals free of discrimination.
Despite what its name suggests, most soup kitchens serve more than just soup. Many serve hot lunches and even full-course meals. Some even give out packed to-go meals for their guests.
Aside from the free meals, some soup kitchens also provide their guests with other essentials. Here at Our Father’s Soup Kitchen, for instance, we give out hygiene kits in addition to clothes and shoes.
But the most important thing a soup kitchen does is bring the community together for a common goal: fight hunger. It bridges the gap between those who have the resources and those that desperately need them. This, in turn, breaks down social barriers as people from all walks of life come together to share a meal.
Food Pantry vs. Soup Kitchen
Before embarking on your soup kitchen journey, know that soup kitchens are different from food pantries.
As mentioned above, soup kitchens serve hot meals. A food pantry, on the other hand, is more like a distribution center. It gives out food supplies that are meant to last for a certain period of time.
In short, soup kitchens serve ready-to-eat meals while food pantries give out uncooked food items. This is because soup kitchens mostly cater to the homeless and those who have nowhere to cook their food. Food pantries, however, serve individuals and families who can’t afford to buy their own food.
Before You Get Started
As mentioned, getting a soup kitchen up and running isn’t an easy task. That’s why before getting started, you need to have a solid plan. Here are some of the things you need to consider when planning your soup kitchen’s operations:
1. Identify Your Goals
What do you hope to achieve with your soup kitchen? The answer to this question will help you identify your soup kitchen’s mission.
2. Evaluate Your Resources
Evaluating the resources you have access to is an important part of the planning process.
Do you have a community that’s willing to support your endeavor? What type of assistance can you get from government agencies? Include these in your planning as it will help you maximize those resources.
3. Define the Scope of Your Mission
No matter how much you want to provide all of the homeless’ needs, it’s just not feasible. This is why you need to define the scope of your mission.
What area are you serving? Will you just serve hot meals or will you also provide clothing and hygiene items? Let these questions serve as your guide when planning the extent of your services.
4. Develop a Food Service Plan
Because it serves food to people, a soup kitchen has to comply with food sanitation regulations too. This is why you need to develop a food service plan before starting your operations.
Your food service plan should include details like:
- the number of people you plan to serve daily
- food safety protocols
- the person in charge of the menu planning
- food service protocols for those with allergies and religious restrictions
- whether the food will be served in a cafeteria or restaurant style
Starting a Soup Kitchen
Once you have a solid plan in place, it’s time to start turning your vision into reality. Here’s a step-by-step on starting your very own soup kitchen:
1. Look for a Suitable Location
Since you’re catering to the homeless, your ideal location should be near where your intended guests are. Remember that most homeless and underprivileged people don’t have cars. If your soup kitchen is far from where they are, it would be inaccessible for them.
If renting or buying your own place isn’t an option right now, you can also set up a soup kitchen in public places. Religious institutions like churches, mosques, synagogues, and temples are a great option too. They are usually accessible to the public and can hold large crowds. Don’t forget to ask for permission from these places first.
2. Register as a Non-Profit
Registering your soup kitchen as a non-profit establishes its legal identity. It exempts you from paying tax and makes it easier to avail of government assistance programs for non-profits.
Each state has different procedures for registering charitable organizations. But it usually involves filing an Articles of Incorporation and applying for federal tax exemption. To be sure, visit your state’s charity registration office.
3. File the Necessary Paperwork
After registering your soup kitchen as a non-profit, you’ll need to take care of additional paperwork like:
- insurance coverage for property and liability
- health insurance for your employees (if any)
- health and safety permits
4. Raise Funds and Food Donations
As you know, soup kitchens run on donations. That’s why fundraising activities are essential in getting the soup kitchen up and running.
There are plenty of ways to raise funds and donations for a soup kitchen. You can organize a food drive or fundraising activities like:
- charity auctions
- online donations
- selling customized shirts and merchandise
- charity walk/run
- charity raffle
5. Look for Volunteers
Aside from donations, non-profits like soup kitchens also rely on volunteers to get things done. That’s why aside from raising funds, you also need to recruit volunteers.
Start with the people you know like friends and relatives. You can also involve people from your church, the local schools, or scout for volunteers online. There are plenty of places you can get volunteers from.
Plus, as I’ve said, it’s a great way of bringing people together to help the less fortunate. That’s why most soup kitchens don’t lack volunteers.
6. Buy Necessary Food Service Equipment
Obviously, you won’t be able to serve hot meals if you don’t have the proper food serving equipment.
During your planning stage, you already identified how many people you plan to serve per day and the kinds of food you’ll have on your menu. This should give you an idea of what kitchen equipment and tools to buy.
7. Stock Your Pantry
This is one of the most important steps in running a soup kitchen. I mean, you can’t cook hot meals if you have nothing to cook, right?
Aside from the food donations, you can also reach out to food banks to see if they can help. Or if you have lots of restaurants and cafeterias in your area, try to see if they can donate some of their excess supplies.
8. Get the Word Out About Your Soup Kitchen
Just like when opening a business, you also need to get the word out about your soup kitchen. You can announce it on social media or print posters and flyers. If you know people from the media, then much better.
“Marketing” your soup kitchen will not only help you reach the people you’re hoping to help. It can also connect you with the people who are interested in your cause.
Now, all you have to do is prepare for your opening day. Good luck and may your soup kitchen succeed.
About The Author
Judy Ponio is a full time blogger and is devoted to topics about charity, kindness, and Christianity. She is part of Correct Digital, Inc which is paid by private donors to provide website digital marketing services to this non-profit organization.