Creating Community

Summerside’s Soul Soup offers free lunch program and weekly connection

The act of coming together to share a meal is a longheld tradition shared the world over. To break bread around a table is to celebrate life and the commonalities we share. Over the past year, Soul Soup, hosted by the Summerside Church of the Nazarene, has been serving up a weekly hot lunch and, in between ladles of soup, creating a space for connection and community to bloom.

“[Soul Soup was] born out of an idea that as a church community we wanted to do something that hopefully would have some meaningful impact within our community,” leader of the lunch program, Christine Gallant, said. Soul Soup operates year-round. A hot lunch is served each Tuesday, starting at noon, free of charge and open to all. The program celebrated its first anniversary in March 2017.

Initially, Soul Soup was an initiative to help fight hunger in Summerside. The south end church felt the void in their area when the Salvation Army moved to their new facilities. “The Salvation Army is an anchor here in this town. They are so amazing for so many people, but now they’re up in the north end of town and we thought ‘We’re still here. Maybe we can do something in a smaller way that helps’,” Gallant said.

Early on, it became clear Soul Soup was as much about feeding people’s need for connection as it was about feeding their physical hunger. “We’re here not just to feed people, but the whole idea of community as well. What we thought at first was it would be for people who maybe food budgets are a little tight so come on in and have a lunch on us. It’s homemade, it’s hot, it’s comforting. But what we didn’t expect was the feeling of community that started here.”

Elderly woman enjoying a bowl of soup and some bread at Soul Soup

Client enjoying a bowl of hot soup during Soul Soup.// Photo Credit: Katherine Bell

Planning for each Tuesday lunch begins the week before, when Gallant receives donations of produce from the community garden. “Every Thursday, I would have bags and bags of fresh produce on my doorstep [from the community garden. Those donations] would often drive what I am going to serve the next week.”

Gallant, proprietor of Sweet Things at the Summerside Farmers’ Market, has also enlisted many of her fellow vendors to donate. “We’ve had some amazing support,” she said. “Westbrooke Farms, where they do beautiful beef, they donate soup bones every single week, so I can make homemade soup broth every week. There’s Pleasant Pork and they donate pork bones and bacon. I have Shipwrights Café who will donate bread.” The church and local community are also supporters. “People within the church will show up with a bag of flour or a can of beans. It’s totally donation driven.”

“I try to think very economically but also healthfully as well. Making our own soup stock can do a lot to cut down the cost. Once we get into the growing season I am able to think more seasonally. Right now, it’s a lot of root vegetables but they are very filling and comforting,” Gallant said, sharing how she chooses what type of soup to prepare each week.

Though Gallant does most of the cooking herself, Soul Soup is supported by a dozen volunteers. The first eager visitors begin to arrive at 11:30, half an hour before the doors officially open. About 15-20 guests are served each week through the winter, some travelling from as far away as Lennox Island. In the summer, numbers often double.

“It’s never been about the numbers.” Gallant said. “It’s not a large group, but it’s a real mix of people who come…people who don’t get out much in the community who really look forward to the lunch. Seniors who come and they do not miss it. People who definitely the food budget is a little tight, so having one lunch looked after, that’s great. In the summer, some families with school-aged children came.”

Eddie Rossiter, the pastor at Summerside Church of the Nazarene, is a regular lunch guest. He said he enjoys engaging with people he doesn’t see on Sundays, as most of those coming for lunch are not members of the church. “While we would love to see them in church too, our goal here is to create a sense of community over a meal. No strings attached!”

Gallant sees Soul Soup as an opportunity for her church to walk their Christian faith. “We just want to be here and serve. I don’t think there is too much in the world that can’t be fixed with love that displays itself through service. It’s a small way, it’s only once a week, but we’re happy with how Soul Soup is growing.”

Gallant and Rossiter share a vision for the future. “We would love to see this room filled with people who just want to be together, who just want to enjoy good food, who just want to enjoy each other’s company, who want to make some new connections, make some new friends,” Gallant said.