Portage church inaugurates soup kitchen
Philip Capone observed that meals are where people meet each other, and sometimes where people meet God.
That belief, and his awareness of hunger in and around Portage, constitute the reasons why Capone plans to use his culinary skills to prepare vats of soup for the new St. John the Baptist Episcopal Church soup kitchen when it opens its doors on Jan. 11.
“In Roman times, people celebrated victories in battle with a banquet,” Capone said. “And Jesus fed the masses.”
“We have Communion,” added the Rev. David Mowers, vicar of St. John the Baptist, “because Jesus had dinner with his disciples.”
Mowers said the tiny but growing congregation is taking on this new ministry, at least in the colder months, because one of the congregation’s core beliefs is that Christ calls Christians to feed others.
“Part of our identity is making sure people who are hungry get fed, because that’s what Jesus would do,” he said.
The parish’s Couper Hall, already the site of a community meal on the third Saturday of every month, is an ideal setting for the weekly soup lunches, Capone said.
Not only does it have ample seating for diners, but also it has a professional-quality kitchen, complete with numerous stock pots and ladles.
Capone, who is not a member of St. John the Baptist, said he has 27 years experience as a chef, and one of his mentors taught him that, “If you have water, you can make soup.”
Although his plans to open an Italian restaurant in Portage are currently on hold, Capone said he wants to use his cooking skills for the benefit of the community.
He said he envisions using whatever ingredients he can find to create soup, possibly including the Italian delicacy pasta fagoli, a meatless tomato-based soup that usually includes pasta and beans.
Unlike some soup kitchens set up during the Great Depression in the 1930s, guests at this soup kitchen will not be required to listen to a Christian message, Mowers said, although he hopes the guests will experience the spiritual benefits of eating in the company of others.
“The concept is a free meal for anybody who’s hungry, or who wants to have a meal with others,” Mowers said.
Capone said he sees the need daily in his work as a volunteer for the River Haven homeless shelter, and just by observing people asking strangers for help at local convenience stores, or sleeping in their vehicles in the rear parking lots of local stores.
“You can identify people in need,” Capone said. “You just know it.”
Volunteer Mark Goldsworthy said he hopes the existence of the soup kitchen will make Portage area residents aware — not only of homelessness and hunger, but also of loneliness.
“A lot of need is hidden,” Goldsworthy observed.
Mowers said the volunteers are prepared to serve any number of meals during the first soup kitchen. People of all ages are invited, and there’s no need to make an advance reservation — just show up anytime between 11:30 a.m. and 1:30 p.m. Fridays.
A person need not be homeless or low-income to join in the meal, Mowers added. In fact, he’s considering issuing invitations to local dignitaries, such as Mayor Rick Dodd, to attend the inaugural soup kitchen.
There is no charge, but cash donations are welcome, Mowers said.
For people who want to contribute to the soup kitchen, he said, there are two kinds of donations that are more than welcome — cash and time.
Cash is a more helpful gift than donated food or ingredients, because soup kitchen planners have ways to buy food and ingredients at little cost.
And time — especially from people who have experience serving food to others — would be gratefully accepted.
Mowers said the inauguration of a soup kitchen is one sign of the parish’s growth.
Church membership and attendance have grown, slowly but noticeably, since the St. John the Baptist congregation underwent a “reboot” in the autumn of 2017. That’s when Mowers, who also is rector of Trinity Episcopal Church in Baraboo, took on the duties as vicar at the Portage church — including leading worship at 3:30 p.m. on Sundays.
In 2017, average attendance at the church was about 12 each Sunday. Now it’s closer to 19. New families have joined the church, and the presence of children has led to the inauguration of a nursery, staffed during worship.
“It’s been a very long time since this congregation has had any children at all,” Mowers said.