Location, location, location: that’s the old real estate adage, and the same is true of a proposed soup kitchen. Of course, a soup kitchen location will initially be driven by whether an existing building is available or whether a building must be found or constructed.
Locate Near Your Patrons
A soup kitchen should obviously be located close to areas where those living in poverty reside. The vast majority of patrons walk to soup kitchens. If a location near an impoverished neighborhood is not possible, the soup kitchen should be close to bus stops or other public transportation hubs.
If possible, it is also preferable that the soup kitchen be located near other social support agencies and facilities (such as emergency shelters and health care facilities). Most soup kitchens get their start in local churches, mosques and synagogues. Even in crime-filled inner city neighbors, local religious sites can be a sea of tranquility. Also the fact that the meal is being served in such a site promotes respect for the facility among soup kitchen patrons. Therefore, if constructing a facility from scratch is not feasible, local religious institutions should be approached to determine if they have a location that they will allow you to use.
Do NOT be surprised to encounter resistance from the immediate neighbors (including the business community) of your proposed soup kitchen location. NIMBYism (not in my backyard) is alive and well in our society. Most people don’t want to have a soup kitchen in their backyard. It is important to reach out to the neighbors adjacent to your site to allay their fears and to explain the steps you intend to take to mitigate any negative impact the soup kitchen might have on their lives. Positive features should be emphasized, for example, more police presence in the neighborhood, improvements to the building façade, improved lighting, and the like.
Existing Building vs. New Building
If you are looking at an existing facility for your soup kitchen, you will want to ascertain what changes might be required to bring the building into compliance with current health and fire codes. Other aspects to consider in judging an existing building are as follows: suitability of kitchen equipment and food preparation and storage areas, security alarm systems, dining hall space, tables and chairs, rest rooms, waste disposal, and parking for volunteers. On that last point, safe and secure parking is very important. Volunteers are not always familiar with the neighborhood surrounding a soup kitchen. It is crucial to have a well-lit parking area or on-street parking immediately adjacent to the facility. Additionally, having an operational air conditioning system is a real plus during the summer months.
If your situation calls for the construction of a new facility, one of your first steps will be to estimate the cost of the total project. In addition to land costs, construction costs vary depending on region and specific location. Outfitting a kitchen from scratch also involves significant purchases such as freezers (stand-alone and/or walk-in), coolers, dish washer, ovens, stoves, hand washing and serving stations. Additional costs would include dining room tables and chairs, restroom facilities, office furniture and equipment, trash dumpsters, carts and custodial equipment. If you are considering construction of your own soup kitchen or even doing major renovations of an existing facility, it is important to consult with an architect and professional (preferably commercial) kitchen designer to make sure the facility can be brought into compliance with health and fire codes.
Before planning a construction or major renovation project, you should check with local municipal government officials relative to zoning and site considerations. You may also be required to register as a food provider to the general public and be subject to code enforcement and inspection.
Universal Facility Requirements
Whether new or existing, it is preferable that the facility is on one floor and that it be on the ground floor.
This eliminates the need for carrying kitchen and food supplies up or down stairs. It also minimizes the risk of soup kitchen patrons and volunteers slipping and falling down steps (many soup kitchen patrons are not steady on their feet due to age and/or disability). It is also important that the facility provide an adequate loading dock and delivery area.
The soup kitchen must be compliant with local codes and the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) and be fully handicapped accessible. This applies to entrance and exit doorways and restrooms. Curb cuts on the sidewalk for wheel chairs should be included.
If an existing building is to be used, it is important that there be NO patron access to other parts of the building. Such access has resulted in vandalism and theft in churches used for soup kitchen projects.
It is important to have a well lit, clean, and cheerful dining room with light colored walls and ceiling. Tile flooring is best from a cleaning standpoint but care must be taken to avoid wet spots when cleaning as they are a very real slip and fall hazard. Don’t skimp on custodial services. Nobody wants to use a dirty bathroom.
If possible, having attractive art work on the walls is highly desirable. Other positive features include a bulletin board of other social service agencies and programs, a suggestion box, table space for social support representatives, and space for donated clothing distribution and donated books.
Location and Facility Tips
TIP #1 – A soup kitchen must consider safety concerns. Given this, try to avoid locations next to bars and liquor stores or sites that the local police department has identified as having gang activity. Sites in proximity to police sub-stations are worth considering.
TIP #2 – If you are contemplating a soup kitchen project in a part of a town that already has a soup kitchen in a different ward or section of the town, investigate whether your project could be a spin-off satellite site of the existing soup kitchen.
TIP #3 – If you will be using an existing building which has other uses (such as a church), you should determine whether the building insurance covers soup kitchen activities, slip and fall accidents and potential vandalization of volunteer and staff cars.
TIP #4 – Area companies, colleges and universities sometimes will donate good quality used furniture and computers to entities that serve the needy. Local thrift shops, Craigslist and eBay are other places to acquire furniture and equipment below market prices.
TIP #5 – A fresh coat of paint can do wonders for a drab room. Unopened cans of paint can often be secured as donations.
TIP #6 – Graffiti breeds graffiti. If graffiti appears inside or outside the building, it should be removed immediately and the police should be contacted to launch an investigation.
Tales of TASK – TASK Struggles to Find a Home
TASK opened its doors at the First United Methodist Church of Trenton in 1982. In the eyes of some, however, the soup kitchen was an unwelcome presence. Business proprietors in the area surrounding the church were concerned they would lose customers and some city planners and real estate developers felt that the soup kitchen was standing in the way of urban progress. By 1985 the soup kitchen was forced to leave the church building and itself became homeless. From 1986 to 1991 in a desperate effort to remain in service, TASK moved repeatedly (at one point handing out sandwiches from the back of a station wagon parked in a vacant city corner lot). Finally, in July of 1991, TASK moved into its brand new 6,000 square foot permanent home thereby ending a long odyssey of moving from one temporary base to another.