The Magic of Soup

A + B = C. Soup. Service. Connection. That is what has been happening across the Blue Hill Peninsula since early April under the watchful eye and skillful coordination of Healthy Peninsula’s Anna Wind and Anne Schroth. Combining the Magic Food Bus mission of making healthy, local food available to all and Age-Friendly Coastal Community’s mission of supporting healthy aging, including addressing isolation, this team came together to do what they do best: coordinate amazing volunteer teams, enlist generous community partners, and deliver nutritious food throughout our area.

One of the vital community supports that was forced to close in March of 2020 with the pandemic outbreak was The Simmering Pot, a much beloved volunteer-led community meal based at the First Congregational Church in Blue Hill. As the church gathering space was closed to slow the spread of COVID-19, so too was the weekly meal. Recognizing the disruption in service during a time of need and the opportunity to harness volunteer availability and local enthusiasm to help, Anna proposed that Healthy Peninsula could step in to coordinate a different spin on the Simmering Pot meal:  a weekly, donation-based community soup and bread home delivery program to reach those who were not venturing out of their homes and could benefit from a nutritious meal.

Rolling up her sleeves, Anna first worked closely with Nutritional Services Manager Barb Haskell from Northern Light Blue Hill Hospital to revive the community meal in a delivery format, putting out the call for volunteers, developing a remote meal request system, and delivering soup herself. Tinder Hearth bakery in Brooksville generously stepped up, offering to donate fresh bread to go out with each quart of soup. “We designed the portions to be generous so that many folks can get two servings, or soup and a sandwich if they would like to” says Anna. After supplying 50, 75, 100, then 110 quarts of soup for the first four weeks of delivery, it became necessary to add additional certified kitchens to the preparation of soup. Local restaurants Arborvine and The Blue Hill Co-op answered Anna’s call for help and joined the cooking rotation, offering delicious fare such as white chicken chili and beef noodle stew. Today, Parker Ridge, The Blue Hill Co-op, St. Brendan’s Episcopal Church, the original Simmering Pot cooking volunteers, and Northern Light Blue Hill hospital all continue to contribute, mostly by donation of their time and ingredients, sharing upwards of 100 quarts of fresh soup, accompanied, of course, by freshly baked Tinder Hearth bread every Monday.

Anne Schroth manages the soup distribution via a small corps of nine enthusiastic volunteers who load their cars each Monday with totes of good will in quart containers. When thanked for their help, many are quick to say “No! Thank YOU for doing this for our community! I love getting to help our neighbors!” One volunteer delivery person told Anne that, although she starts her deliver route mid-afternoon, she often does not get home until early evening. “[That’s] because everyone wants to chat, and she understands that she may be their only outside contact that day or even week,” Schroth said. “It’s not just a food security visit, it’s also a socialization visit.”  Older Mainers, who are often reminded that they are at higher risk of contracting COVID-19, are becoming more and more isolated as this pandemic continues on. Connecting, even briefly with another person on the safety of their doorstep often brings a smile, an opportunity to chat, and always the important reassurance that their community has not forgotten about them in the midst of so much uncertainty.

What started out as 50 quarts of soup in early April has multiplied to roughly 2,365 quarts of free, nutritious soup, highlighting local meats and vegetables, and over 4,500 slices of yummy, crusty bread. Our best estimate is that between 100-130 people are visited weekly. Rain or shine, if it is Monday afternoon, the soup will come – at least until this pandemic isn’t headline news. Our extraordinary volunteer cooks, kitchens, bakers, and drivers are committed. Healthy Peninsula staff remain steadfast.

A (Soup) + B (Service) = C (Connection). Thank you to all of our community partners and generous funders for helping with this warm and wonderful project. If you’d like to participate as a recipient or volunteer please contact Healthy Peninsula at 374-3257.

Written by Janet Lewis (Executive Director), Anna Wind (Healthy Eating Coordinator), Anne Schroth (Healthy Aging Coordinator), staff members at Healthy Peninsula. Your Health Matters is a monthly column by Healthy Peninsula and Northern Light Blue Hill Hospital.