It’s a recent Thursday morning, and about two dozen Washington-area bankers are learning how to fill a bowl of soup.
Multiple bowls, really. The key, they are told, is consistency: No bowl should have more or less tomato soup than the bowl next to it.
“You don’t want people to say, ‘He got more than me.’ Then you’ve got them arguing about the food,” says Michael Fleming, a cook at So Others Might Eat, a charity at O Street NW.
SOME does a lot of things — addiction treatment, for example, and providing affordable housing — but baked into its very name is its origin as a soup kitchen. Every day of the year, SOME serves free breakfast and lunch to Washingtonians who otherwise might go hungry.
In its dining room, SOME can accommodate 160 people per sitting. There are three seatings for breakfast, starting at 7 a.m., and three for lunch, starting at 11 a.m. The charity also delivers food to clients enrolled in various SOME programs.
At peak times, 1,000 meals a day are served.
“At the end of the month, when benefits run out, we see larger numbers of people,” says Daryl Wright, director of food services, material donations and volunteer services at SOME.
Many Washington-area congregations support SOME with food donations, signing on to provide hundreds of prepared meals one day each month. On other days, such as today, SOME’s kitchen buzzes with preparation.
As grilled cheese sandwiches cook — 408 at a time — on trays in two convection ovens, James Bright, SOME’s kitchen manager, is using a shovel-size spoon to stir large pots of tomato soup, stopping occasionally to add roux to thicken it.
“Soup is good in the winter,” Wright says.
Volunteers from Citigroup’s D.C. and Reston, Va., offices — most wearing T-shirts emblazoned with #CitiVolunteers, along with aprons and hairnets — have been split into various teams. Some will work on the assembly line, filling bowls, putting them on plates, adding a grilled cheese sandwich and a packet of crackers. Two will stand at trash cans, helping clients dump their trash. Two will wash dishes. Two will stand at the big coffee urn.
“The biggest draw is the coffee,” Wright says. “It can be 100 degrees outside, and people are going to be lined up for that coffee.”
A few SOME clients who were there for breakfast (corned beef hash, eggs and grits) linger in the dining room. In November, SOME started what it calls ABLE, for “after breakfast lateral engagement.” With Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial Library closed for a three-year renovation, many homeless people have been without a place to get out of the cold.
Every day between breakfast and lunch, SOME clients can stay in the dining room, where they can charge their phones and take turns on five Chromebook computers. Today a group of men is engaging in a spirited round of spades with a volunteer from Hogan Lovells.
Before the lunch seating, the men leave so the tables can be cleaned. The Citigroup volunteers get in position, the doors are opened, and the line that has been forming outside starts moving.
“Good morning,” Wright says as the diners walk in, some holding bags of belongings or trailing rolling suitcases. “How’re you doing today?”
Elena Calderón, a SOME kitchen aide, asks an elderly woman who is juggling a cane and a plate of food, “Can you carry that with one hand?”
“Yes, I can,” says the woman, carefully shepherding her meal to a table.
To the Hispanic men in line, Calderón says, “Disfruta la sopa”: “Enjoy the soup.”
It’s quiet while people eat, quieter than I thought it would be. I do notice one thing: When people are handed their lunch, nearly every one says, “Thank you.”
Christmas music plays over the speakers. Recently, a woman coming for lunch has taken to sitting down at the piano that’s up against one wall and playing beautifully. When that happens, they turn off the stereo and everyone listens.
But she doesn’t come today. Maybe she will tomorrow.
After lunch, I spoke with Jovan A. Middleton. He’s been coming to SOME to eat for the past five years, on and off. He’d spent the previous night at an emergency hypothermia shelter in the Kennedy Recreation Center.
“If it wasn’t for this place, a lot of people would be really hurting, like bad,” said Middleton, 35. “They’d be out here suffering.”
You can help alleviate that suffering by giving to So Others Might Eat, a partner in The Washington Post’s Helping Hand fundraising effort. Our goal is to raise $200,000 by Jan. 5. So far, readers have donated $103,724.
To make a tax-deductible donation, visit posthelpinghand. com and click on “Donate.” To give by mail, make a check payable to “So Others Might Eat” and send it to SOME, Attn: Helping Hand, 71 O St. NW, Washington, DC 20001.
For previous columns, visit washingtonpost.com/johnkelly.