There’s something delicious cooking in Morristown. And the recipe is pretty unique:
• Take one dedicated soup kitchen facing a crisis
• Toss in a pinch of entrepreneurial spirit
• Serve a community in need every day of the year with fresh, free, nutritious meals
The Community Soup Kitchen & Outreach Center kicked off its innovative “Kitchen to Kitchen” program at the start of this year and is celebrating its immediate success. It’s a terrific example of a particular community—in this case the culinary community—coming together to achieve two worthy goals: To reinforce a vital service organization and to make a tangible, immediate difference in the lives of local people who need help feeding themselves and their families.
The whole thing started with a stroke of bad luck. Having just endured another year of weird New Jersey weather with its requisite blizzards, flooding and power outages, and already feeling the long-range effects of three major recessions that had increased the number of “guests” in need and driven up costs, the Soup Kitchen learned that the Board of Health was changing its regulations. To comply with the new rules, the organization would have to meet the standard of a retail food establishment. Accepting donations of food prepared by volunteers in home kitchens, so long a cornerstone of their limited budget, would no longer be allowed.
Unsure how they would continue their mission of “providing nutritious meals in a warm, safe, and caring environment, free of charge, no questions asked to anyone who comes through its doors,” the Soup Kitchen’s leadership was approached by a gentleman who just happened to be looking for a way to do some good. Alan Weinstein, former owner of the Park Savoy in Florham Park, appeared at the Soup Kitchen one day—just about the time the Board of Health had related its news to the group—and asked how he could help.
It was kismet. Brainstorming sessions followed and soon the concept of the “Kitchen to Kitchen” program was born. Mr. Weinstein went straight out and began organizing local restaurants and caterers to provide ongoing donations of prepared food to the Soup Kitchen. The response was immediate and gratifying. “The sharing of food is a custom that has been practiced throughout the ages,” he explains. “‘Kitchen to Kitchen’ connects local restaurants and caterers to the Community Soup Kitchen, and therefore the community at large. It is a very simple, natural and important partnership.”
While local restaurants like Park Savoy and The Madison Hotel have supported the Soup Kitchen for years, the new program offered a great opportunity for others to join them in helping to fight hunger in the community. To date, Mr. Weinstein has signed on nearly 30 local restaurants, businesses and caterers, including:
• America’s Grow-a-Row
• Birchwood Manor
• Bonefish Grill
• Costco Wholesale
• Far Hills Country Day School
• Food Company
• Grand Café
• Grow It Green Morristown
• Hamilton Park
• J & K Steakhouse
• Kings Food Markets
• Lanca Sales
• Madison Farmers Market
• Main Street Submarines
• Morris County Golf Club
• Morristown Deli
• Morristown Farmers Market
• Ome Caterers
• The Park Savoy
• Pazzo Pazzo
• Rod’s Steak & Seafood Grille/The Madison Hotel
• Sweet Lucy’s Bakery
• Tim Schafer’s Cuisine
• Trader Joe’s
• Urban Table
• Westin Governor Morris
• Whole Foods Market
And what about the food? “The guests love it!” proclaims Marla Drury, the Soup Kitchen’s Director of Development and Community Outreach. “The quality of our food has gone up and our guests are excited when they’re able to try different types of foods for the first time.” Ome Caterers, for example, recently provided over 250 servings of freshly made baked ziti parmigiano with sausage, beef Bolognese, hearty soup, and chipotle-crusted lime tilapia over rice and beans that won raves from grateful diners.
Teresa Connolly, Executive Director of the Soup Kitchen, says Mr. Weinstein and the “Kitchen to Kitchen” program have been a lifesaver to the Soup Kitchen. “It has helped us to continue to keep our doors open, 365 days a year,” she said, noting that the 28-year-old organization has always found a way to feed the hungry, never missing a day in over 10,000 days.
In addition to the daily midday meal, the Soup Kitchen also provides canned goods, sandwiches and take-home food for guests, including selections each Monday and Friday from a “Healthy Choices Market” after lunch that features fresh fruit and produce donated by Grow It Green Morristown, a local non-profit sustainable living advocacy group, and generous retailers like Trader Joe’s and Whole Foods. Their onsite Outreach Center offers easy access to a social worker, a nurse, and mental health and substance abuse counselors.
Here’s a Jersey Bites salute to the restaurants and businesses doing such a good thing by supporting the Community Soup Kitchen. And to the Kitchen itself, along with its 2,000 dedicated volunteers, for providing much-needed services to the homeless and the working poor in Morris County.
For more information about the Community Soup Kitchen and Outreach Center, or to learn how you can donate, volunteer or become a contributor to the Kitchen to Kitchen program, visit www.cskmorristown.org.
And for anyone interested in sampling some of the Soup Kitchen’s hospitality, they will be participating in the “Locally Grown” event happening this Sunday, September 23, in Morristown as part of the Sunday Supper Series that celebrates Morris County chefs, farms and food innovators. Wielding a ladle alongside such local stars as Restaurant Serenade’s James Laird and The Artist Baker’s Andrea Lekberg, the Soup Kitchen’s own in-house “chef” will be serving her famous Vegetarian Minestrone Soup with Freshly Grated Parmesan Cheese and Homemade Croutons. For ticket information, visit the Locally Grown event page at sundaysupper4.eventbrite.com.
Deanna Quinones is the Jersey Bites Regional Editor for Morris County. A freelance writer, blogger, and unrepentant chocolate addict, Deanna spent 20 years in the San Francisco Bay Area where life was good and the burritos even better. She recently returned to the Garden State and now resides in Morristown, where she and her Texas-born/Jersey-raised/California-found husband are raising two wild and wonderful kids. An experienced book marketer, award-winning greeting card writer, and entertainment writing dabbler, Deanna can be reached at [email protected] (photo credit Pete Genovese/The Star-Ledger)