Free Hot Soup (And More)
Story by Dave Eckert
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The numbers are staggering and heart-breaking. On any given night, an estimated 553,000 people experience homelessness in the United States. During the pandemic, the numbers have surged and they show no signs of improving. Homelessness raises any number of health concerns. A government website medicinepluds.gov lists the following.
Limited access to health care • Problems getting enough food • Stress • Trouble staying safe • Violence • Unsanitary living conditions • Exposure to severe weather
A group here in Kansas City has been addressing the problem of hunger among the homeless for a number of years. Free Hot Soup is a Facebook-based organization that deals directly with the food issues of those facing homelessness. I spoke to Mark Gibbons, an active member, about the group’s goals. “For me, the goal is to see that nobody goes hungry. I have t-shirts that say ‘Hunger isn’t a matter of charity, it’s a matter of justice.’ That includes everyone, but especially kids,” Gibbons stated. “I started by making soup and bringing it to picnics that both Free Hot Soup and Kansas City Heroes hosted in a number of parks around the metro. I like soup, know how to make it, and can make it for large groups, so that’s what I do.”
Free Hot Soup’s efforts to feed those facing homelessness have generated controversy, including a very public battle with the Kansas City Health Department more than two years ago. The department claimed the group’s picnics needed permits and that serving without them posed a risk of foodborne illnesses. In one very public instance, food from a picnic organized by Free Hot Soup was seized and destroyed. I asked Gibbons where things stand now.“ They totally backed off on this. If you can go the park, set up a table, and serve hot dogs to your friends, the city can’t interfere with that. That’s basically what we’re doing. It’s not for profit. It’s not run by an official organization. It’s just a gathering of friends. They haven’t bothered us since they bleached our food two and a half years ago,” Gibbons shared.
In addition to continuing to host their park picnics, Free Hot Soup has also jumped into the city’s so-called “Hotel Project,” where hundreds of people facing homelessness were moved into hotels throughout the metro. The problem, Gibbons says, was there was no plan for food. So, Free Hot Soup and other groups began collecting, delivering, and serving food on a daily basis. Gibbons says they will continue to do so until and unless the program is discontinued.
As for the root causes of homelessness, there are many, including, but not limited to:
Poverty • Unemployment • Lack of affordable housing • Mental and substance use disorders • Trauma and violence • Domestic violence • Justice-system involvement • Sudden serious illness • Divorce • Disabilities • Death of a partner or parent
Gibbons sees all those issues here in Kansas City, and doesn’t foresee any of them going away. For now, he and his fellow hot soupers will continue their efforts on the food front and hope to make a dent in one important aspect of those experiencing homelessness. “My goal is, to as much as I can, keep people from being hungry by providing healthy food options. Visible, recognizably food that doesn’t look like it came out of the serving line of a mission,” Gibbons said. “I have a group of five to 15 people at my church every week, and in an hour and a half, they can make close to 300 sandwiches that are wrapped up with a packet of mayonnaise and a packet of mustards. That doesn’t solve the problem, but it helps.”
If you’d like to get involved in Free Hot Soup, Gibbons says it’s easy. Visit their Facebook Page, which posts regularly about the group’s efforts. Gibbons says you can participate as much, or as little, as you like.