With a mission to “spread Christ’s love one bowl at a time,” 12 to 15 church members chop, dice, sauté and simmer gallons of soup to distribute to those who can use a little support or just a reminder that someone cares.
The ministry is an offshoot of inspiration from Anna Mattson, a member of Christ by the Lake. She and three other members—all retirement age—formed the original Soup Sisters cooking group in June 2015 because most soup recipes make more than two people can eat.
The idea for the group was simple: One member made soup each week and delivered a quart of it to the other three. Sharing solved the problem of leftovers, and it was a great opportunity to try out new recipes.
In 2016, Mattson suggested they expand their soup-making into a ministry. All four original Soup Sisters are Bull Shoals Food Pantry volunteers, so they were aware of the prevalence of food insecurity in the area and were on board with the idea.
With financial help from the congregation council and donations such as stockpots, cutting boards, kitchen utensils and more from generous church members, the ministry was born.
A group of women met in April 2016 for the first soup-making session, which netted 14 quarts for the church freezer. The congregation then was invited to take a quart of soup to someone they thought needed it—a person recovering from illness or surgery, someone living alone, somebody experiencing grief or anyone who needed to be uplifted. The 14 quarts quickly disappeared.
“This ministry provides a variety of nutritious soups to anyone in need, no questions asked,” said Ruby Kowalke, a Soup Sister.
Elaine Smith added, “What I enjoy the most about being part of the ministry is knowing that while my part in it may be small, the end result is big.”
Since its first soup-making session, the ministry has added members, held three soup-tasting fundraisers, served lunches at two synod meetings, held an Easter brunch, purchased a small freezer to store their efforts, and made and distributed more than 250 quarts of soup throughout a two-county area.
“This ministry provides a variety of nutritious soups to anyone in need, no questions asked.”
And in summer 2017, the Soup Sisters partnered with the Bull Shoals Food Pantry to host cooking classes for its clients and the community. The classes included a session on canning where attendees each went home with a pint of canned tomatoes.
“Jesus taught that when you have fed, clothed and visited the least, you have done it to him,” said Sherman Gordius, pastor of Christ by the Lake. “There also are Scripture verses admonishing those who say to the needful ‘be well,’ then go on their way. The Soup Sisters take the time and put in the work, and, as a bonus, enjoy the fellowship of making their gifts and acting to distribute.”
That fellowship even brought in a new church member when Paula Sheppard came to Christ by the Lake to help make soup and learned about Lutheran beliefs. “When I am with these women, I am happy,” she said. “This is the best thing I’ve ever done.”
The ministry has motivated others in an ecumenical way. Women from First Presbyterian in Mountain Home, Ark., about 20 miles away, attended a Soup Sisters’ soup-making session, took ideas home to their congregation and began a similar ministry.
Although Christ by the Lake is a small congregation, the Soup Sisters think big. They recently received a $2,500 grant from the Arkansas-Oklahoma Synod’s “Living God’s Abundance” campaign and plan to take their soup on the road.
The grant will fund a six-month pilot program of delivering soup to surrounding communities. If the pilot is successful, the group will work toward obtaining a small food truck to make soup deliveries to those without access to transportation.
“If people can’t come to us, our soup will go to them,” said Bonnie Galvan, a Soup Sister who is also director of the food pantry.
Looking back at the past two years, Mattson said she is awed at how the ministry has spread: “The community has embraced the Soup Sisters and uses the ministry. They support our fundraisers and make donations. I’ve received calls from the community telling me someone is coming home from the hospital and asking the Soup Sisters to deliver soup. We are serving a need.”
Soup Sisters’ Tomato Soup
Makes 6 servings
12 tablespoons butter
1 ½ large onions, cut into wedges
3 28-ounce cans whole or crushed tomatoes
4 ½ cups water or chicken or vegetable broth
1 teaspoon kosher salt, or more to taste
1 tablespoon sugar
Melt butter in a large saucepan. Add remaining ingredients, bring to a boil, reduce heat and simmer 40 minutes uncovered, stirring occasionally.
Puree soup with an immersion blender or in small batches in a regular blender. Taste and add more salt if necessary.
For a richer soup, add a tablespoon or so of tomato paste. You also can add chopped, fresh basil just before blending the soup.