In the quiet Portland, Ore., neighborhood of Irvington, neighbors parade down the street, carrying salads, bread and wine glasses—and empty soup bowls. It’s Soup Night on Stanton Street, and everyone on the block is invited.
“The whole idea is for neighbors who might not otherwise have a natural point of contact to get to know one another. Through the simple act of sitting down to a meal together on a regular basis, even people who have very little in common build a genuine relationship,” writes Maggie Stuckey in her new book, Soup Night: Recipes for Creating Community Around a Pot of Soup (Storey Publishing, 2013).
At the annual Stanton Street block party, people volunteer their homes for the monthly gatherings. The host sends out a reminder—usually a hand-delivered flyer—and provides two huge pots of soup, one of which is vegetarian. Then the neighbors arrive, with bowls and utensils in hand, so no heavy cleanup is required. Some bring sides, wine and desserts to share, but that’s not required. A few unwritten rules guide the evening: No one keeps score on whose turn it is to host, a formal RSVP is not expected, and seats at the table are reserved for people over 70.
The event gets high praise from the Stanton Street neighbors. “Soup Night is incredibly important to the kids on the block and they don’t even know it yet. Right now, it’s just a big party to them. But they are seeing how adults can behave cooperatively. And that’s a great thing to grow up with,” saysneighbor John Wahl. Alex Shafir adds, “When my kids are 50 years old, sitting on their front porch and thinking back on their childhood, the main thing they will remember is Soup Night.”
Soup Night on Stanton Street is not unique. Similar events take place in New York, Chicago, San Francisco, Pittsburgh, Milwaukee, Cleveland, Boston and elsewhere. But Stuckey says the Stanton Street gathering is special.
“All you have to do is stand on the sidewalk, and you feel it,” she explains. “The fundamental sense beneath all the interactions is a spirit of generosity, fostered by Soup Night and made tangible in countless acts of kindness. It is a powerful thing.”
For a selection of recipes from Soup Night, see below.