As your soup kitchen grows you may find that you want to expand your services. If so, a threshold question you will need to grapple with is whether to provide new programs yourself or partner with another nonprofit. Regardless, you certainly want to avoid any duplication of service with other area nonprofits. You should also be cautious not to fall prey to mission drift, i.e., implementing new programs beyond your mission.
When considering new programs, you need to think carefully about long-term funding. Many funding sources will support a new initiative for a year or two but not beyond. You need to consider whether your organization can raise the required money when initial funding sources ends. Nothing is worse than starting a great program and then having it end abruptly because of a loss of funding. It is painful to patrons and to staff.
Even if a new program is going to be largely staffed by volunteers, for example a volunteer based-tutoring program, you must plan on-going recruiting, training, supervising, evaluating and recognizing your volunteers. Volunteer retention, like donor retention, requires on-going effort and, even then, you will lose volunteers.
Patrons come to the soup kitchen because they are hungry. By adding new programs you have the opportunity to introduce them to other services.
There are at least five categories of program expansion to consider: (1) meal service, (2) support services, (3) self-sufficiency programs, (4) quality of life programs, and (5) advocacy/outreach:
Expanding the Meal Service Program
If you decide to expand your meal service program, there are many different options to consider:
- If you are currently serving lunch, you might decide to serve breakfast and/or dinner.
- In addition to your hot meal service, you might consider providing a take-home bag of non-perishable food for later consumption. Similarly, you might provide next day breakfast bags for all the children who come to your soup kitchen.
- You might open up satellite sites in other parts of your town or region. You should be careful to ensure you have the same level of food safety and sanitation as in place at your main facility. There is also the need to provide strong management at satellite operations. This is an example of where a local partnership should be considered.
- You could open up a food pantry or operate a mobile unit to take meals out into the community.
- Still another option is to institute a backpack program which provides weekend meals to children.
There are several different methods of providing social services to your patrons. One is to hire a social worker. Another is to have an outside service provider at your facility. Still another is to subcontract a social worker from another agency. The advantage of subcontracting is that the soup kitchen is relieved of main management and oversight, the contracts are time specific, and they can be ended if funding problems arise. The following are examples of potential social support services:
- Social service counseling; information and referral programs; access to Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP) and Medicare/Medicaid
- Medical screenings (blood pressure and blood work); dental screenings
- Distribution of eye glasses purchased at pharmacies
- Local health center mobile van providing service immediately outside your facility (lessens impact to dining room)
- Drug and alcohol addiction programs; assistance with mental health issues
- Assistance with food stamp and unemployment benefit applications, Earned Income Tax Credits (EITC), immigration status issues, housing, legal services, income tax preparation and notary service
The ancient Chinese proverb says, “Give a man a fish and you feed him for a day. Teach him to fish and you feed him for a lifetime.” This is the rationale for offering programs that provide educational and job-training opportunities:
- Adult basic education (ABE) programs are particularly needed by soup kitchen patrons who may have not completed high school and may be deficient in literacy and math skills.
- General Equivalency Diploma (GED) programs and computer literacy and training are very important. Try to recruit volunteer tutors for your ABE, GED and computer courses. It is not necessary for a tutor to have been a teacher, but some degree of tutor training is important.
- Culinary arts programs train students to become cooks and chefs for the food industry. This kind of program can be conducted in the evening, thereby extending the use your facility. The program can involve networking with area restaurants for trainers and job placement. Your local community college can also be a valuable resource.
- Help with resume preparation and job search assistance.
Quality of Life Programs
Running a soup kitchen is as much about building a sense of community as it is serving food. One of your overall goals should be to help patrons improve their self-esteem and self-confidence. One way to promote a community feel is to provide programs to improve the quality of life of your patrons. The following are examples of such programs that you might offer:
- Arts programs (painting, photography, poetry, writing, drama, music)
- Distribution of hygiene kits (bar of soup, disposable razor, deodorant, toothbrush, toothpaste, shampoo)
- Providing haircuts and other personal hygiene services
- Offering magazines and books (hard backs look good on display, but paperbacks are easier for patrons to carry)
- Accepting mail for homeless patrons; allowing local outgoing telephone calls; taking patrons’ phone messages
- Offering e-mail access if you have a computer room
- Offering donated clothing (tube socks, knit caps, gloves, scarves, sweatshirts), backpacks and tote bags
- Daily announcements on activities at other agencies such as food and clothing distributions, special events, and deadlines for provision of specific services
- Hosting holiday parties such as Christmas and Halloween; Easter egg hunts; birthday parties for adults and children. All these are ways to boost morale for patrons who may have little else to celebrate in their lives. You should try to solicit donations of toys and new clothing from the wider public.
- Recreation and healthy life-style programs such as sports (basketball, tennis), stress-reduction techniques (yoga, stretching, and meditation), movies, body-building.
Outreach and Advocacy
While it is necessary for you to reach out to the wider community to raise funds for your meal program, you may also decide to broaden your mission to include advocacy and public education about the root causes of hunger and poverty. This could take the form of hosting periodic forums/lectures on hunger issues and making presentations before community groups, civic organizations, senior citizen groups, book clubs, religious congregations, youth groups, elementary and high schools and local college classes and assemblies.
Specific advocacy issues beyond hunger include affordable housing, government programs affecting your patrons, drug and alcohol addiction, criminal justice and ex-offender programs, immigration, education/job training, minimum vs. living wage and the like. You might also consider conducting non-partisan voter registration drives at your facility.
Clearly you do not want to get involved in partisan politics. Avoid having candidates for public office participate in your events during election campaigns. It is also important to avoid anything that could be considered lobbying. You don’t want to threaten your nonprofit status.
Advocacy for anti-poverty programs might include testifying at government hearings. You will find that you have credibility because of your food service mission. It is helpful to legislators and the media if you provide handouts of your material. A particularly effective handout is your meal count chart.
When you launch a new program or expand your mission you should publicize the news as widely as you can, whether by press releases, local TV and radio spots, or public speaking opportunities. More and more, the electronic venue is the medium of choice for telling the community about programs and services. Publicizing new programs can help in general fundraising as such efforts make your basic mission more known by the wider community.
In expanding your services, you may encounter donor concerns that you are not adhering to your basic food service mission. Our experience at TASK has been that, by and large, the public approves of expanded services. They appreciate that you are trying to do something to reduce poverty in addition to providing free food.
As your soup kitchen matures, the work of the program committee becomes more important. In concert with the director, the role of this committee is to solicit patron input and develop proposals for new programs consistent with the agency’s mission statement. New programs must be reviewed in light of available resources and presented to the full board for final approval.
Tips for Expanding the Missions
TIP # 1 – When offered goods such as food or clothing, don’t be reluctant to say no if you feel these donations do not meet safety and cleanliness standards. You should urge donors to provide only clean clothing.
TIP # 2 – Ask volunteer groups to bring in-kind donations of travel or hotel size hygiene items. Local businesses, schools and religious organizations are also sources of donations, whether they are food, clothing, or hygiene articles.
TIP # 3 – The quality of life at your soup kitchen can be improved noticeably by displaying artwork on the dining room walls, having pleasant music over a PA system and ensuring a welcoming attitude by all staff and volunteers.
TIP # 4 – If you provide patrons with internet service, you will need to decide whether to block access to objectionable sites.