How You Can Start and Operate a Soup Kitchen

Mission Possible: How You Can Start and Operate a Soup Kitchen

Trenton Area Soup Kitchen trio writes how-to book

The Trenton Times Newspaper, November 07, 2011
By Joyce J. Persico

By any measure, the Trenton Area Soup Kitchen is a success story. In August alone, the humble building on Escher Street served more than 17,000 meals to down-on-their-luck men, women and families — some without homes, some without jobs and many without hope in an economic climate that finds them on the bottom rung of the needy.

Three men who have a combined 35 years of experience working with the soup kitchen, often referred to as TASK, have seen miracles happen. They also have witnessed a seemingly endless cycle of poverty that brought them generations of the poor and hungry. So it’s become part of the lives of Peter Wise, Irwin Stoolmacher and Martin Tuchman to supply hope where there is none.

From left, Irwin S. Stoolmacher, Martin Tuchman, and Peter C. Wise are co-authors of the book, "Mission Possible, " on how to open and run a soup kitchen at the Trenton Area Soup Kitchen in Trenton on Thursday, November 3, 2011.

The trio has filtered that goal into "Mission Possible: How You Can Start and Operate a Soup Kitchen," a how-to book with an unusual premise: Helping interested communities fill the needs of the hungry with something as basic as food. Just as important, it details how to achieve what TASK is notable for - sustainability.

In 14 chapters, the book offers suggestions ranging from what to serve to how to serve it, including security, client relations, finding the resources, leadership, and funds needed to start a kitchen. The authors hope their work will boost the existing 5,000 soup kitchens in the United States and help anyone who wants to start a new one.

Some of the advice is common sense, for instance establishing a soup kitchen near an impoverished area. Some is not so apparent: Giving the needy an opportunity for artistic expression and self-improvement.


"It’s not uncommon for people to ask us for advice," says Wise, who is retired from an aerospace career at RCA/GE. Associated with TASK since 1985, he served as its director from 1998 to 2007. "We’ve been asked for advice from Freehold and Mount Holly about how to start a soup kitchen. We wanted this book to be the definitive one."

Tuchman, whose long work history includes banking, investing and international shipping, is an executive with an equally long involvement in nonprofit organizations. His Tuchman Foundation underwrote the project and he conceived the idea for the book, insisting it provide a step-by-step operating manual like one that would be found in any viable business. All the good will in the world can’t make a soup kitchen sustainable, and Tuchman, who has served on the TASK Board of Directors since 2003, explains that the Trenton operation attracts people because they are "really hungry and TASK is well-run."

Wise points out that recent headlines have cited the encroachment of poverty on suburbia, in neighborhoods where no one ever thought a helping hand would be necessary.

"Long before the current recession, there was a clear need for more soup kitchens across America. Now, with times more challenging than ever, there is an urgent need, not just in the inner cities but in many suburban communities as well," he explains.


The good news, Wise believes, is that there are more people who want to help in some way.

"That’s what this book is about. It is a practical, hands-on, step-by-step guide to such groups of people who want to help but don’t know quite how to start. It’s also designed to assist those who want to expand existing soup kitchens," he says.

Co-author Stoolmacher, whose wife, Phyllis, is the longtime director of the Mercer Street Friends Food Bank, is a marketing and fund-raising consultant who heads the Stoolmacher Consulting Group in Lawrence. He mentions TASK’s new satellite soup kitchen in Hightstown’s First Methodist Church as an example of the growing need to feed the hungry. It introduced its one-night-a-week soup kitchen Thursday.

Stoolmacher got involved at TASK when, at age 40, he asked himself, "What am I going to do when I grow up?"

"After 25 year of fundraising, there is nothing I’d rather do," he says. "What we do here is a real business. Believe me, I get raked over the coals at monthly board meetings."

Dennis Micai, current executive director of TASK, has had two recent inquiries from the communities of Montclair and Dover with an interest in how TASK works. He mentions that the economic downturn has also changed some of the soup kitchen’s dynamics.

"Last year we saw a lot of new faces. The homeless now number less than 50 percent and now we see more seniors and younger families," says Micai.

The free online version of the book "Mission Possible" has already attracted 648 page views from more than 25 countries and 10 states a month since August.

Although "Mission Possible: How You Can Start and Operate a Soup Kitchen" is available on for $15, it also is available for free as a downloadable pdf file at the website. It also can be purchased through TASK by contacting Jaime Parker at TASK, P.O. Box 872, Trenton, N.J. 08605. All profits will benefit TASK.