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Soup Kitchens

Herbert Hoover

Soup Kitchens: Herbert Hoover was the 31st American President who served in office from March 4, 1929 to March 4, 1933. One of the important events during his presidency was the emergence of Soup Kitchens during the Great Depression.

Definition and Summary of the Soup Kitchens
Summary and definition:
The Soup Kitchens in the Great Depression served free meals to hungry men, women and children. The soup kitchens were run by volunteers from charitable organizations and local communities with food supplies provided by benefactors and people in the neighborhood from their 'Soup Gardens'.

Before 1935, as unemployed soared to over 25%,Soup Kitchens sprang up in every major town and city in America as there were few welfare programs to help the unemployed, starving and destitute people.

What were the Soup Kitchens during the Great Depression? The Soup Kitchens during the Great Depression were places  where hungry men, women and children were served a free meal, usually consisting of vegetable soup and bread.

Who ran the Soup Kitchens? The Soup Kitchens were initially run by volunteers of various charities. The charities were soon unable to meet the demand. In 1932, as the hard times became even worse, President Hoover gave $4 million to the states to open additional soup kitchens.

Where was the Soup Kitchens? The Soup Kitchens sprang up in every major town and city in the United States.

Facts about Soup Kitchens
The following fact sheet contains interesting facts and information on Soup Kitchens.

The first Soup Kitchens were first established in America the 1870's following the Panic of 1973 that triggered a previous depression that lasted for 6 years.

The idea of soup kitchens were brought to America by Irish immigrants who had memories of the events of the 1845 Great Irish Potato Famine. The Soup kitchens in Ireland, many of which were run by Quakers, to provide the starving people with hot soup.

The Temporary Relief Act also known as the Soup Kitchen Act was passed in February 1847 by the United Kingdom Parliament. It called for the food to be provided through taxes collected by local relief committees from Irish merchants and landowners.

There were few government welfare systems before 1935, there was mass unemployment and people were literally starving. President Hoover believed that private charities and local communities, not the federal government, could best provide for those in need.

Republican Hoover advocated "rugged individualism", the idea that every man should fend for himself and that government handouts to the unemployed did great damage to people's self-esteem. There was no social 'safety net' of welfare and relief programs at the start of the Great Depression.

Due to Hoover's beliefs and his slow response to the Great Depression, the Soup Kitchens provided the main form of sustenance for the poor, needy, unemployed and homeless

1930s soup kitchens were initially run and funded by charitable organizations such as churches, religious groups, missions, Ladies Aid Societies, Women's Leagues and the Salvation Army. They were dependent on donations from local businesses and private individuals.

The situation became so dire that in 1932 President Herbert Hoover authorized $4 million to the states to open more soup kitchens.

Centers were established in any suitable halls and typically furnished with long wooden benches and seats that could seat the maximum number of people in the space available (as seen in the above picture). Others used any old furniture donated to charities.

Some soup kitchens sprang up that did not have the facilities or space to serve food at tables. In these instances people lined up with their own buckets which the soups were ladled into.

Women volunteered to work in the soup kitchens that served their communities, improvising cheap recipes for soups that made use of any available local products. Vegetables, boiled together in water, made up the bulk of the soups and stews that were served. As the numbers of people arriving at the kitchens increased more water had to be added to the stews and their nutrition value declined.

Communities encouraged more fortunate people to grow "charity gardens" to supplement the supply of fresh vegetables. Some city land was also made available for "charity gardens".

The quality of the food served depended on various factors such as how big the kitchen was, the type of food that had been donated and how many people there were to feed.

Most centers only opened once a day. However, larger centers were able to open three times a day, seven days a week offering food or coffee for breakfast, lunch and supper. The staple diet of the people depending on the centers was soups, stews and bread. Soups and stews were economical, almost any ingredient could be used and they were simple and easy to cook and to serve. Soups were often greasy and watery but it was all that was available.

There were some variations of the food that was served. Breakfast might consist of just a hot coffee perhaps with biscuits, muffins, toast and oatmeal. Lunch consisted of soup, stews, bread or sandwiches often made with peanut butter, Supper was soups, stews and bread. If fruit was available some of the kitchens would also provide cobblers or pies. Soups were made with combinations of meat and vegetables (mostly vegetables).

The quality of the food served depended on various factors such as how big the kitchen was, the type of food that had been donated and how many people there were to feed.

Most centers only opened once a day. However, larger centers were able to open three times a day, seven days a week offering food or coffee for breakfast, lunch and supper. The staple diet of the people depending on the centers was soups, stews and bread. Soups and stews were economical, almost any ingredient could be used and they were simple and easy to cook and to serve. Soups were often greasy and watery but it was all that was available.

There were some variations of the food that was served. Breakfast might consist of just a hot coffee perhaps with biscuits, muffins, toast and oatmeal. Lunch consisted of soup, stews, bread or sandwiches often made with peanut butter, Supper was soups, stews and bread. If fruit was available some of the kitchens would also provide cobblers or pies. Soups were made with combinations of meat and vegetables (mostly vegetables).

The comfort of a hot meal was especially appreciated by the homeless. The shacks that were built in the shanty towns, called Hoovervilles, had limited cooking facilities and many could not afford food to cook. Other homeless people, especially in congested cities, created really primitive types of housing with no cooking facilities. For additional facts and information refer to Shantytowns and Hoovervilles.

Al Capone's Soup Kitchen: The notorious gangster Al "Scarface" Capone, the wealthy, bootlegging crime boss of the Chicago Mafia sought to clean up his image by financing one of the first soup kitchens in Chicago. He earned a reputation as a 'Modern day Robin Hood' with the poor and destitute in Chicago who rightly said that Al Capone was doing more for the unemployed than the US government. As a benefactor Al Capone attracted newspaper headlines such as "120,000 meals are served by Capone Free Soup Kitchen".

Al Capone's Soup Kitchen: On Thanksgiving Day in 1930 he provided over 5000 meals in one day.  His charitable donations extended to Christmas as he provided Christmas gifts for poor and needy children. His generosity and charitable works also extended to providing coal, clothes and blankets for the poor the during winter months.

Al Capone's Soup Kitchen: Al Capone's Soup Kitchen was located in a store on 935 South State Street, at the corner of 9th and State Street in Chicago. It wasn't tucked out of the way, it was in prominent view to the people of Chicago, as were the lines of unemployed who waited at the storefront. Three meals were provided each day for breakfast, lunch and dinner. For additional facts and information refer to Facts about Al Capone

In the 1932 presidential election election Hoover was crushed by Franklin D. Roosevelt and the Democrats. Relief systems to help the needy were at last introduced in President Roosevelt's 'New Deal' that instituted the 3 R's - relief, recovery and reform and the passage of the Social Security Act.

Over 6 million pigs were slaughtered in September 1933 to stabilize prices during the Great Depression as a result of the actions initiated by the Agricultural Adjustment Administration (AAA). Much of the meat went to waste causing a massive public outcry. In October 1933 the Federal Surplus Relief Corporation (FSRC) was quickly created to divert agricultural commodities to relief organizations. Arrangements were made for flour, pork, apples, beans, canned beef to be distributed through local relief channels to the Soup Kitchens, the poor and the needy.

US American History
1929-1945: Depression & WW2

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