NYACK – Katie Berry will tell you that Soup Angels — which will serve its 12th annual pre-Thanksgiving dinner from 4 to 7 p.m., on Nov. 22 — is the answer to a prayer. Actually, several prayers.
Eleven Thanksgivings ago, thanks to a generous donor, the soup kitchen was launched with a catered meal for anyone who showed up, no questions asked.
“We prayed for a year in the little chapel,” Berry said. “A few of us gathered every week and prayed. We said, ‘You know what, God? You’ve got bigger plans than we do, bigger hands than we have. Show us what to do.’ And the floodgates opened.”
One floodgate: Jon Ewig, of Upper Grandview, who owns Porky Products, a New Jersey meat company, has donated meat every week for 12 years, no questions asked. Ask him why and he’ll tell you because he can, he has the means.
Yet another floodgate: Volunteers showed up. They formed teams and served meals. First on Wednesdays, then on Mondays and Wednesdays. Starting last month, after noting that Thursdays were the only night when Nyack’s food insecure couldn’t find a free meal, Soup Angels added a Thursday dinner.
Berry said the group’s mission statement hasn’t changed in nearly 12 years.
“Anyone hungry for a meal or companionship, no questions asked,” she said. “We feel that blessing has extended itself into the community, so that people in the community, when they know about us, give in the same way, no questions asked.”
The menu: Turkey, stuffing, sweet potatoes, green beans, cornbread, tossed salad, cranberry sauce, pumpkin pie, apple pie. Or, as Berry puts it, “the whole nine yards.”
The walls will be decorated with Thanksgiving murals, there will be autumn leaves on the tables, real silverware, candles, fresh flowers, cloth holiday tablecloths and music. Each guest will be met with “Welcome to Soup Angels, can I get you something to drink?”
In addition to all the trimmings, this Thanksgiving meal includes a heaping helping of dignity and compassion.
Finding helpers is not hard, said Berry, who coordinates volunteers.
“In the beginning, we thought: ‘How are we going to find people?’ They found us. We have volunteers from around the county. People hear about us through word of mouth. We have a table at every street fair. Youth organizations and scouts hear about us and kids know they can come to us for community service. We have a lot of retired people.”
People such as Bob Sartori and Jane Hicks, who are co-captains for one of the 24 teams that see to every weekday meal. While Hicks works in the kitchen, Sartori marshals volunteers in setting up the hall. The mood is light, the work focused, the vibe generous.
“Everybody who works here is really a good person,” said Hicks, a retired Clarkstown North High School assistant principal. “I’ve made close friends through here.” Working at Soup Angels gave her “a purpose, a schedule.”
Co-founder Rife said she gets out “far more than I ever put in.”
“I could never ask for more than I get out of it,” said Rife, who teaches music at Nanuet High School. “It’s immensely fulfilling. It’s one of those indescribables. It’s a lot of hours, but it’s an immense satisfaction to know that you’ve fed people a good quality meal.”
The need is clear, she said, and increasing.
Berrys said that while they might have seen 50 or 60 in those first years, the Soup Angels regularly serve 80 or 90 at each meal. On pre-Thanksgiving Wednesday, that number swells to 250, including 50 from the Rockland ARC.
“Some people do a lot of traveling to eat,” Rife said. “They may go to Spring Valley for breakfast, because there’s a substantial breakfast program over there. Then they’ll come over here for dinner. And that covers things for a lot of people, as best we can.”
Reaching beyond Nyack
Realizing that not everyone could make it to Nyack, Soup Angels reached out to groups that needed Thanksgiving meals across the county. They contacted churches, social organizations, the family resource centers at schools, and Head Start programs.
“We started at hundreds and then we went to thousands,” Berry said. This year, they’ll send 3,000 meals out on pre-Thanksgiving Wednesday.
Two major donors are the founders of this Thanksgiving feast. Last year, Soup Angels still had to dip into their coffers to make the meal happen. “We’re not asking those donors for more, because they are unbelievably generous as it is,” Berry said.
“We have more requests than we have money for at this point,” adds Rife. “East Ramapo schools has asked us for more than 1,500 meals now.”
Berry explains how the process works.
“A volunteer makes all the phone calls and organizes all the numbers. She gives those numbers to the caterer, so he knows he needs 200 meals for Head Start in Haverstraw, 150 meals for St. John’s Church in Piermont — whatever it is. The meals are plated and boxed for each agency or group. The one thing they have to do is go pick it up in Valley Cottage.”
In Nyack now, the hungry and food insecure can get a meal every day of the week, Berry said.
There’s Sunday Supper at Living Christ Church; Mondays, Wednesdays and Thursdays at Soup Angels at First Reformed; Saturdays, there’s a food pantry at St. Ann’s on Jefferson Street; Thursday mornings, there is Grace’s Kitchen at Grace Episcopal; Tuesdays, Thursdays and Fridays are at Pilgrim Baptist Church and the Seventh Day Adventist Church.
Berry likes what that social safety net suggests about Nyack.
“I think it says that there’s a lot of people of good will, people of faith,” Berry said. “I think people come here because they know there’s a warm and committed community and I think that is what has been the beauty of Nyack. Aside from great restaurants and interesting shops and all that. It’s the sense of community we have here.”
As wonderful as it is to feed people whose bellies are hungry, Berry said, it’s extraordinary to see volunteers become deeply committed to one another.
“We had a couple get married who met here,” she said. “When one of our clients died, we had volunteers from this organization who wrapped around her when she was ill, visited her, made sure she got proper care, attended her funeral and paid for her headstone.”
Those open floodgates have translated into community and service and full bellies. It also has begotten “a bounty table,” with take-home fresh fruit, cookies and peanut-butter-and-jelly sandwiches. Guests can go home with a “bounty bag,” which could mean breakfast or lunch the next day.
Rife said the Soup Angels can always use supermarket or shopping-club gift cards to help them buy fresh produce. Without the donations, a typical Wednesday meal might cost $800, she said.
“When you have really good chefs, they want to cook a good meal,” Rife said. “They want a decent quality cheese, you’re going to give it to them. If they ask for fresh broccoli, you’re going to give it to them.”
Soup Angels Thanksgiving
Soup Angels hosts a sit-down Thanksgiving from 4 to 7 p.m. on Wednesday, Nov. 22 (Thanksgiving Eve) at First Reformed Church of Nyack, 18 S. Broadway, Nyack. Turkey with all the trimmings, with 3,000 more meals being sent to schools and social-service agencies across Rockland. On Thanksgiving, the regular pasta meal (with a special dessert) will be served at the regular time, 5:30 to 6:30 p.m. Volunteers and donations welcome. Learn more and contribute at www.soupangels.com
Holiday dinners elsewhere
The Haverstraw Neighborhood Fund sponsors a sit-down Thanksgiving dinner at Quisqueya Sports Club, 25 Broadway, Haverstraw. 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. Turkey dinner with all the trimmings, with help from City Line Family Restaurant, UNION Restaurant, Lynch’s Restaurant and a host of volunteers, including Village Mayor Mike Kohut and ROTC cadets from North Rockland High School. For details, to donate or volunteer, contact Emily Dominguez at 845-947-8532, Ext. 103.
The Marian Shrine, at 174 Filors Lane in Stony Point, will offer a free dinner on Nov. 23, between 1 and 3 p.m. in the chapel’s cafeteria in the Don Bosco Retreat Center. Call 845-947-2200, Ext. 302 for reservations, or email firstname.lastname@example.org.
Grace Episcopal Church, at 130 1st Ave., Nyack, will hold its weekly breakfast program on Thursday morning, Nov. 23, between 7 and 8:30 a.m.
Living Christ Church, at 151 S. Broadway in South Nyack, will hold its fifth annual community Thanksgiving dinner on Nov. 23, which will have two seatings: From noon to 2:30 p.m., and 3 to 5 p.m. No charge. 845-358-3125.
Christ Episcopal Church, at 65 Washington Ave., Suffern, will offer a free Thanksgiving meal at 11:30 a.m. Nov. 23. 845-357-1615.
Article By: Lohud.