The Stanton Street Soup Night was designed from the very beginning as a way to bring neighbors together. Everyone on the block — every single person, corner to corner, on both sides of the street — is invited.
The whole idea is for neighbors who might not otherwise have a natural point of contact to get to know one another. Through the simple act of sitting down to a meal together on a regular basis, even people who have very little in common build a genuine relationship.
At its core, Soup Night is a stunningly simple idea: get everybody together once a month for an informal soup supper. What is not so simple — what is in fact quite extraordinary — is what happens next.
On Stanton Street, when people talk about building community (which they do, a lot), they mean something very precise: creating and nurturing a way for every single person on the block to feel connected to every other person. Not just the people who already know each other, but everyone, without exception.
That connection shows itself in many different and wonderful ways. Reading their stories, we are reminded what good-neighborliness really means. But let’s also take note of what it does not mean. It doesn’t mean poking into other people’s lives unwelcomed. It doesn’t mean gossip. It doesn’t mean comparing A to B in any manner that might diminish either one. It doesn’t mean intruding, making judgments, or taking without giving.
The mechanics of Soup Night are very simple. In fact, that’s part of its genius. Once a year, usually at the annual block party in September, someone puts out a sign-up sheet, and people sign up to host each month. It isn’t hard to get volunteers; the event has become so popular that people fight for the privilege. Sometimes two households go together as co-hosts, thus neatly avoiding duels at dawn.
By tradition, Soup Night happens on the last Sunday of the month, but each host has the option to change the date if need be. The host sends a reminder, usually in the form of a hand-delivered invitation or flyer, a week or so in advance. On the night itself, the host makes two huge pots of soup, one of which is vegetarian. And that’s all; that is the complete limit of the host’s responsibility.
One of the rules of Soup Night is that the host doesn’t have to feel obligated to clean the house beforehand (although, human nature being what it is, many do). The other critical rule is that the host should not be burdened with cleanup afterward, which is why everyone brings their own bowl and spoon.
It is often the case that neighbors contribute other things to the meal — a bottle of wine, a big bowl of strawberries from that day’s U-Pick outing, homemade bread, or cookies — but that doesn’t qualify as a rule; people do that when they feel moved to do so.
There are a few other unwritten rules: It is quietly understood that some of those on the block are simply not in a position to host, and no umbrage falls to them. No one keeps score about who has hosted how often, and the idea that it’s someone’s “turn” would not occur to anyone.
People over 70 are not expected to sit on the floor; seats at the table are reserved for them. No formal RSVP is expected, and even though the event is for a specific time period (usually 6 to 8 p.m.), it’s OK to drop in late or leave early.
Related recipe: Santa Fe Sweet Potato and Chipotle Soup
At our table sit many authors: cooks, critics, journalists, memoirists, humorists, and more. Join us here for excerpts from their work.
Want more? Comb the archives.
Most of the time with cooking and eating, the rules are clear.
A father’s legacy
The vegetarian-cooking pioneer
Barbecue, tamales, cocktails, and more
Good on everything