The services of the Capuchin Soup Kitchen are produced wholly by the hearts of donors and volunteers, and its mission is to provide more than simple sustenance. In addition to the two thousand meals per day that are served between two kitchens, the Connor kitchen offers family services, after-school tutoring and art therapy for children, while the smaller Meldrum edifice aids those struggling with substance abuse or mental illness. A bakery staffed by men coming out of prison or homelessness helps with integration back into society, seventy-pound ready-to-prepare food packages are delivered to 150 families a day, and Brother Jerry Smith, director of the four-structure operation, spends a lot of his time trying to figure out how to make it all happen without any government assistance.
“There’s a huge divide between city and suburb—between those who have and those who have not,” says Brother Jerry. “Our society seems to be in this materialistic frenzy, accumulating all these things and buying this and that. When you don’t have any money and you can’t do any of that it’s pretty hard.”
An adjoining farm teaches volunteers how to grow food in an urban setting and encourages self-reliance. “We’re trying to get more food in the city of Detroit… they call it a food desert—a lack of fresh fruits and vegetables,” he describes. “We are trying to move from a charity model to a model of social change, where we actually help people become aware of the strengths and the abilities they have within themselves… to change their own neighborhoods and their own lives.
This is really kind of survival at some levels… If we can help somebody make some real significant changes in their lives or provide them the opportunity to do that, that’s really good stuff.”
The Capuchins encourage participation beyond typical volunteer work. “We also need people just to come and be, and to listen, and to learn.” Brother Jerry estimates that over half a million meals will be served at the Connor and Meldrum kitchens by year’s end, but their focus remains on a singular goal. “We’re trying to do what we can to go out of business.”
The Connor kitchen will be in full festive spirit this Christmas day with a special meal and a soup kitchen choir. For information or to make a donation visit cskdetroit.org.