Local restaurants to offer free soup

Chef Alex Smith of Feed'Em Soup tosses diced onions into a mixture for meat loaf for a community meal.
Chef Alex Smith of Feed'Em Soup tosses diced onions into a mixture for meat loaf for a community meal.

Feed’em Soup is expanding its reach into the community by offering an affordable bowl of soup at two local restaurants.

The cost? Whatever you can afford to pay.

The Feed’em Soup Community Project is partnering with Riccardi’s Red Hots & Soda Fountain in Sycamore and The House Cafe in DeKalb to serve two or three different soups a month. The restaurants should be serving the soups by mid-October.

Derek Gibbs, marketing director for Feed’em Soup, said those restaurants plan to have a collection jar available for people who can pay for the soup.

Donations will go toward supporting the organization, which serves free community meals two or three times a month to anyone in need.

“It not only supports us, but it supports a local business,” Gibbs said. “A lot of people are winning out of this.”

Sue Riccardi, co-owner of Riccardi’s Red Hots & Soda Fountain, said she heard The House Cafe was joining the partnership and she wanted to be a part of it, so she approached Feed’em Soup about getting involved. She said she feels there’s a need for Feed’em Soup in Sycamore because the organization’s reach isn’t as extensive there as it is in DeKalb.

“If you only have a dollar, or you can pay the full amount [you can donate],” she said. “If you can’t afford anything, that’s OK, too.”

The larger vision is for Feed’em Soup to become less of a soup kitchen and more of a community restaurant where people pay whatever they can for a meal, he said. Another goal is to be open weekly by this winter.

“We’re in the very early stages of a large transformation,” he said.

Alex Smith, also known as Chef Alex, is a cook by profession who prepares all of Feed’em Soup’s meals, which are held the second, fourth and fifth Wednesdays of the month at their location at 122 S. First St. in DeKalb.

For October, he’s planning pumpkin-themed soups, including pumpkin Parmesan soup, pumpkin and apple-cider stew and a pumpkin bisque. He said everything is made as fresh as possible, not only because it tastes better, but because it keeps operating costs down.

“We want to reach out on non-meal days,” Smith said. “We’re just excited to have another outlet to get food out to people.”

Gibbs said Feed’em Soup is trying to break the soup-kitchen stigma. He said Feed’em Soup’s operation is nothing like the movies, where people stand in long lines to eat food prepared from a box.

“[The stigma] limits us incredibly,” he said. “We have guests that come in who wouldn’t be comfortable in a stereotypical soup kitchen. ... It’s not embarrassing to come to Feed’em Soup and have a meal.”

Gibbs said there also will be opportunities for people to pay what they can during scheduled community meal nights, although he estimated about 80 percent of the people who attend community meals are in need of Feed’em Soup’s services, which includes a food pantry and clothing donations.

About a month ago, the organization served a record 368 people in an evening. Gibbs encourages families who plan to go out and grab fast food for dinner to instead stop by Feed’em Soup and donate the money they planned to spend.

“We want people to come to us when they can,” Gibbs said. “If they donate $15 to us, it not only feeds your family, but it feeds the entire family sitting next to you.”

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