Opening a Soup Kitchen or Food Ministry – Five Step Tips

Opening a soup kitchen or providing free cooked food to a community for the first time can be a daunting task. Some tips on how to prepare to run a ministry like this can be helpful to avoid common pitfalls in the beginning stages.

OPENING DATE: If there is a kitchen involved, don’t schedule the health inspection until the place is perfectly clean and ready to run. Get the dining room area ready and serve donuts or cinnamon rolls and coffee once a week or daily until the kitchen can be operational – if you want to please the people who are looking for it to open to meet their perceived need. Add meals and more service as you have the money, time and volunteers. Have a dry run with the food and supplies you may already have, even if you are not ready to open right away.

VOLUNTEER WORKERS: Get a volunteer schedule going. Also, let people earn “Volunteer Bucks” certificates by putting in a specific amount of time as a volunteer. They can redeem the certificate when they want to eat there. Treat volunteers as very important (because they are, and you can’t do without them), and keep tabs on how they are feeling so you can keep them in there. Having a volunteer coordinator might be a good idea.

REPORTING WORK DONE: Have workers on important or pivotal projects each give an email or phone report on a daily or every-few-day basis to keep you up on what is done, or needs to be done. Base the type of report on how they relate best to you, not how you relate best to them. You need to be updated, and they need to be giving a report regularly so they are aware that they are accountable for how they spend time, even if they are volunteers.

PAID WORKERS: If you are not there to continually supervise a paid worker so that you feel comfortable paying them a salary, pay them by the project they are doing. Make them bid it, or tell them, “I need you to build this item (or research this item, or purchase this item, or fix this item, etc.), and it should take 5 hours, and I’ll pay you $50 (if you are paying $10/hour) upon completion” (no matter how much extra time they take to do it). Be willing to renegotiate if they think you are expecting it to be done in too short a time. If you don’t have the time to be there to negotiate these projects, have a person to coordinate it for you.

WORKER MORALE: Have someone you trust checking on the morale of the people to avoid any conflict or resentment building up. This means that they listen to people and relay to you how the “temperature” of the place is going without sharing names. This is so you are able to step in, help out, put out fires and encourage people where they need it without being confrontational.

Keeping things moving along towards opening and keeping people happy before and after the opening are the things that are most important for running a ministry to the hungry or needy in a community. It is best to consider these five things when preparing for opening day.