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FEATURE - August 2019
A Picnic with Friends:
Feeding the Hungry
By Jill Dutton
I attended a picnic in the park recently. I cooked juicy and crispy chicken legs,
baked hundreds of mini muffins—blueberry, cornbread, and chocolate—and
purchased a large quantity of individual serving potato chips. Then I headed to a
park in Kansas City, Kansas.
It was my first time serving at Free Hot Soup KC, a group that provides weekly
picnics throughout the Kansas City area to those in need. They call each event a
“picnic with friends.”
Volunteers worked quickly from noon to 1 p.m., passing out bottles of water to
those waiting in line on this hot Saturday afternoon. They served up huge portions
of homemade brisket, chicken, casseroles, numerous side dishes, and a variety of
The hour passed in an instant as we dished up meals for about 100 people.
After passing through our line to pick up their hot meals, the people we served
visited a second table where they received sandwiches, chips, and fresh fruit to
take with them for later.
Coordinators of Free Hot Soup KC provide weekly meals in North Kansas City,
Missouri, Kansas City. Missouri, Kansas City, Kansas, and Olathe, Kansas. There
isnʼt an agenda and their goal is simple: to feed those who need it.
A lack of an agenda means the picnics arenʼt based on a particular religion or
political bent. Dallas Bauer, the coordinator of the Olathe, KCKS, and NKC picnics,
says sometimes those in need may stay away from groups with a religious bent.
Free Hot Soup aims to help the food insecure from where they are, both
physically in the parks where they come, and also from an emotional standpoint.
“In our group, we don't allow religion and politics, so there are none of those
conversations,” Bauer says. “We're not making you pray over your food before we
give it to you. We're not trying to save your soul. We are simply trying to be your
friend. ‘Here's some food. Are there some other essentials that will keep you alive
or safe or comfortable until you get things worked out?ʼ And we work from that
Bauer says the act of planting the seeds of hope and help opens the door to
potentially assist someone with additional life issues.
“For me, it's planting those seeds because a lot of people have mental health
issues, alcohol and drug addictions, and we don't care about those things—we
feed you anyhow. And then it's about building relationships. It can be a week later,
a month later, or a year later, and when they're ready to seek the help they need,
oftentimes it's one of us that they'll come to and say, ‘Hey, I'm ready to do this.ʼ
and then we can help.”
I saw this lighthearted acceptance of people, whatever their current situation,
at the park that day. I was bagging containers filled with food, making sure to
include napkins and utensils. Bauer, standing next to me, asked a gentleman if
heʼd like a smoothie while he waited. There was a large cooler filled with yogurt
and fresh berries, a refreshing treat as people stood in line for the food.
The gentleman said he didnʼt want one because he had been drinking. Bauer
instantly replied, “Oh, this is loaded with organic berries. Youʼll want to get your
antioxidants!” and they both laughed.
Although the meals are free, Bauer says they get occasional donations from the
diners. “If they want to make a donation or they want to give us something, we will
accept it because that is them giving back. And that's something that makes them
contributors and makes them feel good.
“We have somebody at the KCKS Park who eats with us every Saturday after he
gets off work at Krispy Kreme. He brings five or six dozen donuts with him every
week—every single week. So I always go down the line with the donuts and that
becomes a communication piece too. Because people who come to the park for
the first time, one of the first interactions is someone coming down the line
offering you a Krispy Kreme donut.”
Volunteers are the heart of this endeavor to make a small dent in food
insecurity. Thereʼs a way to help no matter the level of commitment youʼd like to
exert—whether buying and dropping off canned foods or meats for the freezer,
preparing and cooking meals, or volunteering at the park.
Bauer is grateful for any amount of help. She worries about burnout if
volunteers commit to too much. “We have people that are going to two parks,
three parks per week—and theyʼre typically bringing food,” she says. “This core
group of people is not only cooking, but they're serving and they're picking up
“I hate to see people get burned out on this, it has to bring you joy. And when
you come to the point where you feel like it's a full-time job and it's draining you,
then it's not fun. People feel like if they cook the food they have to also volunteer
at the park. We just need more people cooking, or donating quality ingredients,”
Find Free Hot Soup on Facebook to donate food items, prepare meals, or serve
at one of the weekly picnics with friends.