The Stone Soup Café’s mission is a direct reflection of its humble beginnings. Emerging from the teaching and practices of Zen Buddhism, the Café was conceived by American Zen Buddhist master, Bernie Glassman and his student, Academy award-winning actor and anti-hunger activist, Jeff Bridges. The Stone Soup Café was initially named “Let All Eat Café” when it started in 2010 as a weekly community meal in Montague, MA. Their desire was to create a community meal that treated all people as valuable members of a diverse and inclusive community.
In the beginning, members of the Zen Peacemakers would drive community guests to the meal at its Montague Farm location. Perhaps 20 or 30 people a week would visit the farm and share a meal on a Saturday.
Glassman soon realized that in order to serve a larger community, the Café would need to be located in a more central location. Bernie looked to Greenfield. The All Souls Church congregation agreed to host the meal and a new alliance was born. The Let All Eat Café began serving its Saturday meal in Greenfield in April 2011.
At the end of 2011, the Zen Peacemakers handed the Café project over to Ariel Pliskin. Pliskin’s vision brought the Café to where we are today. Through their experiences at Zen Peacemakers Bearing Witness Street Retreats, Ariel noticed that when they ate at a soup kitchen, the staff would treat them with love, but not with dignity. As a result, Pliskin, Levitt, Glassman, and many others have worked to create a new model of community building and hunger relief in which people of all socio-economic backgrounds are treated with dignity.
Knowing the importance of belonging and community empowerment, Pliskin guided Café guests in a sociocratic process of renaming the Café. After a month-long process, the Café officially renamed itself on June 12, 2012, and “Stone Soup Café” was born.
In 2012 the newly formed Stone Soup Café board of directors worked diligently with the congregation of All Souls Church to create a fiscal partnership agreement. The Unitarian Universalist principle which affirms and promotes the inherent worth and dignity of each individual and the Zen Peacemakers’ tenet of bearing witness was a perfect match to aid in the Café’s unique approach to creating a safe space for all members of our community to enjoy a nutritious meal.
All Souls Church supported the operations of the Café for nine years, in late 2021, Stone Soup Café was granted its own 501c3 status.
Executive Director and Chef, Kirsten Levitt, has led the organization since November 2017. Levitt had previously been a founding board member, board secretary, executive chef, and liaison to All Souls.
Under her leadership, the Café has grown, most especially during the COVID-19 pandemic. In 2011, the Café served about 25 people a week. By 2019 the Café greeted 100 - 130 guests each week. Since 2020 the increased need for prepared meals and emergency food supplies has more than doubled the number of guests served each week. Currently, the Café serves between 450 - 500 meals each Saturday. These meals are picked up at curbside or delivered to guests’ homes in Greenfield and surrounding areas.
The COVID-19 pandemic has provided the Stone Soup Café with the opportunity to be more nimble and responsive to the needs of our community. In May 2020, we opened “Our Community Free Store” an emergency food pantry that also provides personal care and clothing items to our neighbors. Additionally, the Café has hosted online learning and connection opportunities, weekly art installations at our curbside pickup, and most recently Saturday musical entertainment on Hope Street.
Stone Soup Café celebrated its 10th birthday in June of 2022. Our organization consists of three central programs: a Pay-What-You-Can Community Meal, a Free Store, and a Culinary Institute. We are located in Greenfield, MA, and serve the geographic region of Franklin County, which occupies a land area of 702 square miles in the Connecticut River Valley of Massachusetts. Franklin County is the most rural county in western Massachusetts. Greenfield has been designated as a Federal Opportunity Zone because it is a community struggling to overcome high levels of poverty and limited access to opportunity. The following paragraphs provide more details about our three central programs.
In 2022, with support from the State of Massachusetts, Stone Soup created a Culinary Institute program (SSCI). Stone Soup Culinary Institute strives to offer more equitable access to career training and economic opportunity to people seeking a new career path, especially those who are seeking employment after a period of incarceration or recovery from addiction. SSCI formalizes the decade of experience that the Café has in training volunteers to carry out the fundamentals of food preparation into a free 12-week course. Applicants who are accepted into the program attend tuition-free and leave with a Food Handlers License, a ServSafe Certificate in Kitchen Management, job skills, practicum experience, and references for securing work in the vibrant and emerging food culture here in Franklin County.
Stone Soup Café is a mutual aid organization that connects and empowers people. “We are not a soup kitchen or a charity. We have created a model that is not stigmatizing,” says Executive Director Kirsten Levitt, “we’ve been developing and improving the model for more than a decade. It’s time to celebrate that achievement!”
The Café is run by a board of directors and its volunteers with a few paid staff positions. The Café has always relied upon community members, local partnerships, and donations to be able to run its meal every week. We are a grassroots organization that believes in the dignity and worth of all of our participants. Every ingredient counts – Especially You!
Please come and join us at noon on Saturday – we’d love to get to know you!