by Bill Batson
For the hungry, the First Reformed Church tower on South Broadway is a beacon of hope. Inside this building that almost scrapes the sky, an organization called the Soup Angels provides food and comfort to the needy three nights each week. This Wednesday, for the 12th year, Soup Angels will serve over three thousand Thanksgiving meals throughout the county.
Last Thursday, I joined colleagues from the Nyack Chamber of Commerce to volunteer for a shift. I haven’t always been on the serving side of a soup line. In 1983, I found myself in Los Angeles without money or a place to live. I traveled across country on a whim, minus a plan.
When I was living in my station wagon in Venice Beach, I sought out food programs. What I found were places overwhelmed by relentless need, with an atmosphere of despair and the ambiance of alienation. From its inception, Soup Angels has sought to be the opposite.
In a history of Soup Angels that accompanies their 2016 cook book, the mission of the organization is described as “an all-volunteer, non-sectarian venture, where food was cooked with attention to quality, healthiness and flavor…there would always be table clothes, candles and music during meals. Guests would be served restaurant-style by volunteer waiters, using china plates and flatware.”
A loyal corp of 300 volunteers have guided founding members Katie Berry, Kathleen Myers and Katherine Rife vision to fruition. Diane Sesti has been a volunteer since their first Thanksgiving meal 11 years ago. “Personally, I liked the idea that it was completely ecumenical,” Sesti said.”We are not involved with a church or any agency. We have always been open to everyone. I think that’s the most amazing thing about Soup Angels. What is done is completely done through the generosity of the community.”
“The Chamber of Commerce volunteered when we heard that there was a third day of meal service added in October,” said Chamber President Scott Baird. “We not only wanted to show our support, but blast it our through social media so that people will think of volunteering or donating and that if anyone was hungry, they’d know where to go.” Baird was joined on Thursday, October 16 by Casa del Sol owner Tom Lynch and Chamber Vice President Nancy Phillips.
Sesti runs the monthly volunteer orientation on the first Wednesday of every month at 5p. Volunteers should enter the First Reformed Church on Church street, a few yards up from South Broadway. The entrance for guests seeking a meal and hospitality is on the Burd Street side Monday, Tuesdays and Thursdays at 5:30p.
“Each week, we share 120 servings,” Sesti reports. “Our volunteers can be high school students seeking community service credit members of the Chamber.”
Volunteers shop for the food, assist various chefs from the community who create meals, prepare hearty soups, entrees and salads and serve the food. Take home offerings called bounty bags, consisting of fresh fruit and a sandwiches, are created and dispensed.
The doors of this food program opened in the fall of 2005 when another local program closed theirs. Since 2005, national and regional economic decline has driven a greater need for food programs like Soup Angels.According to the United States Department of Census, more than 1 in 10 Rockland County residents — 33,000 of our neighbors — live at or below the poverty line.
An anonymous benefactor provided initials funding and supports the annual Thanksgiving meals. Local business like Porky Products, of Northern New Jersey and World of Food from Valley Cottage supply additional food.
Yet despite the longevity and depth of the volunteer and philanthropic commitment, hunger persists and grows.
Since these angles took flight, they have not missed a meal, showing up to serve during winter storms, summer heat wave and even Hurricane Sandy, where they provided meals to first responders.
If you are feeling angelic yourself, you can go to their SoupAngels.com and click on Support Us to make a contribution.
Soup Angels serves dinner every Monday, Wednesday, and Thursday from 5:30p until 6:30p. Everyone is welcome, no questions asked. The entrance is on Burd St. between Cedar and South Broadway and is accessible to the disabled. To donate or volunteer visit SoupAngels.com.
An artist and writer, Bill Batson lives in Nyack, NY. Nyack Sketch Log: “Nyack Sketch Log: Soup Angels Serve Three Thousand for Thanksgiving” © 2017 Bill Batson. Visit billbatsonarts.com to see more.