It’s open for less than 24 days each year, yet the Winter Soup Kitchen run by the Knights of Columbus Council 207 makes a difference in the lives of dozens of Auburn residents nonetheless.
The soup kitchen serves approximately 40 people every Tuesday between the beginning of January and the end of April, according to Jack Baraczek, Grand Knight of Council 207. And the soup kitchen’s reach doesn’t end there, he noted. Volunteers serve their guests as many bowls of soup as they’d like while they’re at the kitchen, and they package up extra meals for them to bring home.
The Knights also conduct an annual collection drive for coats and winter outwear and encourage their guests at the soup kitchen to take what they need from the resulting winter-clothing closet.
“This year we’re on a pace to distribute over 400 articles of winter clothing,” Baraczek said.
The Knights’ Winter Soup Kitchen has only been operating for four years, and comes from humble beginnings. It grew out of the desire of the Knights of Columbus Council 207, which was formed in 1899, to find another way to serve their community, Baraczek said, noting that the council already donated money to the local Catholic parishes, food banks, schools and veterans’ organizations, as well as individuals and families in need. Still, the Knights felt they were being called to identify a new way to serve their community, he said.
“We were looking for something that we could do that would help the greater community and be sustainable over time, so we came up with the idea of a soup kitchen,” Baraczek explained.
Most of the Knights had previously volunteered with other soup kitchens, but they had no idea how to go about starting one of their own, he added. They began the process by visiting the area’s other soup kitchens and food pantries, whose organizers were very gracious and told the Knights about their own operations.
“What we didn’t want to do was infringe upon anybody else that had a soup kitchen or had a certain food distribution day. We learned Tuesday was an open day that really wasn’t covered, so we picked Tuesday,” said Baraczek, who belongs to Sacred Heart Parish in Auburn.
The Knights began spreading the word that they would be serving hearty soup, bread and butter, water and dessert on a few Tuesday afternoons in December at their council headquarters at 47 Market St. in Auburn.
“Initially we started (serving) five or six people, then it went to 10, then it went to 15. We found that the best way to advertise was not through newspapers or anything. It was through word of mouth. The more people that came and enjoyed our soup kitchen, the more people came next time,” Baraczek said.
As the soup kitchen grew more popular, it began adding more ways to serve the community. The Knights still provide their original simple meal of soup, bread, water and dessert, but now they also provide peanut butter and jelly sandwiches for people who don’t like soup, TV dinners for people to take home and to-go containers filled with soup. When these take-home meals are factored in, the Knights serve approximately 80 to 100 meals each Tuesday, Baraczek said.
The Knights also provide bus money for those who need it, as well as kits containing toothbrushes and travel-size containers of toothpaste, mouthwash, soap and shampoo, and they offer winter coats to whoever needs them.
“It’s really morphed into something bigger than a little old soup kitchen,” Baraczek remarked. “Our motto has always been from day one, if we only serve one person and made a difference in that person’s life, we were successful that day. That continues to be our motto.”
The Winter Soup Kitchen receives no government funding and operates solely on funding from Council 207 and its ladies auxiliary unit and the generosity of others, including local restaurants and grocery stores that donate soup and supplies. Each Tuesday approximately 15 volunteers of all ages arrive at the soup kitchen in mid-afternoon to set up before guests begin arriving at 3 p.m., Baraczek said. The soup kitchen is open to everyone who needs it, and guests don’t have to fill out forms or meet specific criteria. They seat themselves, and volunteers serve them their meals, and the volunteers make sure to take time to socialize with the guests.
“We sit with them. They’ll start to get to know us by name. These folks come in, and it’s as much about socializing as it is about getting a hearty meal,” Baraczek said. “It’s been beneficial for those we help and those that are volunteers. It’s a very humbling experience. We get a lot out of it.”