"What the Pros Know"

What the Pros Know

Peter Wise ’62 serves up lessons learned starting and running a soup kitchen.

Spacecraft or soup kitchen? With a B.S. in physics and post-graduate work in mechanical engineering, Peter Wise worked for 36 years as a thermal systems engineer and manager for RCA Astro-Electronics in Princeton, N.J. where he developed weather and communication satellites and interplanetary spacecraft.

When the Princeton facility closed in 1998, Wise was about to move with the product line to California, until he heard that the Trenton Area Soup Kitchen (TASK) needed a full-time executive director. He chose the soup kitchen, and stayed for about 10 years.

More recently he was asked to share advice on how to build a sustainable soup kitchen. The result is Mission Possible: How You Can Start and Operate a Soup Kitchen, published by Open Door Publications (Lawrenceville, N.J.) with coauthors Irwin Stoolmacher and Martin Tuchman. The book website www.startasoupkitchen.org, is accessed by approximately 1,500 visitors each month from every U.S. state and more than 60 countries worldwide. “It’s stunning, but also saddening, to see the traffic going to the site,” says Wise.

Mission Possible describes how to create a contemporary soup kitchen, one that provides not only hot meals, but also the tools to rebuild lives. Says Wise: “It is about much more than serving food.

1. Getting Started

Assess the unmet needs in your area and realistically determine your resources — volunteers, funding sources, food, and facility. Create a workable mission statement.

2. Board Leadership

Strive to create a diverse board. Attract and nurture people who share your vision.

3. Marketing & Public Relations

This is absolutely key to volunteer recruitment and fundraising. Use local TV, radio and newspapers to get your message out.

Create a quarterly newsletter and a professional looking web presence. Accept every invitation to talk to outside groups.

4. Food Acquisition & Food Safety

Try to acquire the bulk of your food from a local food bank. Get certified as a food service facility. Ensure your staff has food safety and sanitation training.

5. Fundraising & Financial Management

Develop a diversified donor base. Make thank-you letters a priority. Establish budgets, develop financial controls, and ensure an annual CPA audit and submission of IRS Form 990.

6. Staff Management

Main positions are director, floor manager (greeter), volunteer coordinator, receptionist, head chef, custodian and van driver. You will have a small staff so it should be one cohesive team.

Nurture all staff members.

7. Volunteer Management

Recruit from local churches, synagogues, mosques, civic organizations, business and professional groups, retirement communities and schools. Brief them, watch them, ask them, and thank them.

8. Patron Relations

Patrons are the reason for your enterprise. Try to view things through their eyes. Provide a dining room of hospitality. It’s about kindness, smiling and learning names.

9. Expanding the Mission

After establishing your meal service program, additional programs could include case management, drug and alcohol counseling, GED instruction, culinary and arts programs, and pro bono legal and medical services.