Soup Kitchen Stories

Independent/Courtesy Stephen Henderson

Running a household kitchen is no small feat, and as our quarantine confines continue, parents far and wide are starting to feel as if their own homes have converted into full-on soup kitchens that could feed a small army at any hour of the day.

Writer Stephen Henderson is here to help, and offer some perspective. After spending a week volunteering at a soup kitchen in Delhi, India, he was inspired to dive into the world of, what he calls, “gastrophilanthropy.”

“Gastrophilanthropy is generosity devoted to nourishing the needy,” he explained. “Like too many people in America perhaps, I tended to forget soup kitchens exist until Thanksgiving Day, which is really the only time charitable volunteers are needed. Seeing how spontaneously people arrived to help cook or donate food all day, every day at this charitable kitchen in India was a shock.”

Following his stint in Delhi, he volunteered in soup kitchens in Iran, Israel, South Korea, Austin, Pittsburgh, and Los Angeles, where he captured a fascinating series of recipes, field reports, and humbling musings.

The result is “The 24-Hour Soup Kitchen: Soul-Stirring Lessons in Gastrophilanthropy,” out this week from Radius Book Group and available online from Amazon and Barnes & Noble. Inside, readers can discover Henderson’s first-hand feats of mass cookery, ranging from a Sikh temple where he helped feed 20,000 people a day, to the “ocean” of chicken curry he prepared at a homeless shelter in Pittsburgh. There’s even a chapter devoted to an especially wild dinner he cooked for several hundred transgender prostitutes in Guadalajara, Mexico.

“David Kalke, a socially liberal Catholic priest, runs a mission in Guadalajara, to help homeless young men who are turning tricks in Mexico’s second largest city, as well as a surprisingly large group of transgender, male-to-female prostitutes,” Henderson recalled. “Kalke is a friend of mine, and I volunteered to come down to cook a ‘Day of the Dead’ dinner, which was held at a local gay bar called Doña Diabla or Madam Devil. About 150 sex workers showed up, and I served them a lavish meal of meatballs, roast pork, and rice and beans. Three different drag queens performed at a party that ran very late.”

Once-in-a-lifetime true tales are in no short supply with Henderson and his new tome, but perhaps best of all, this piece of heart-warming literature benefits a good cause, with 100 percent of proceeds from the book’s sales going directly to Food Bank for New York City. “You don’t have to be a trained chef to volunteer at a soup kitchen,” said Henderson. “Anyone with two hands can chop onions or peel carrots.”

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