The recipe for Judy Mandelbaum’s Vegetable Soup calls for a lot of simple ingredients: yams, lima beans, potatoes, carrots, celery, salt, and so on. The volunteer cooks at Judy’s Kindness Kitchen boil the soup in two giant pots, before dumping their steaming brew into coolers for transport. Within the hour, those coolers will arrive at a homeless shelter, feeding dozens of hungry people.
These are standard facts about a soup kitchen. But one thing never gets mentioned: the soup is really good. Judy Mandelbaum hand-wrote the recipe herself. And because Judy – a family therapist and mother of five – passed away in 1980, she had no idea that her soup would eventually sustain thousands of people in need on the East Side.
“By the end of the day, it’s all gone,” says David Mandelbaum, who helped found Judy’s Kindness Kitchen in 2004 and named the initiative after his mother. Each Sunday, 25 volunteers gather at Beth Shalom to assemble sandwiches, cook soup, and package cookies. The foodstuffs are then served at Crossroads, a homeless shelter in downtown Providence.
During the week, Mandelbaum works part-time as a child neurologist at Hasbro Children’s Hospital. On Sundays, he coordinates volunteers through an app on his phone, organizes a sandwich assembly line, and arranges transport of food and workers from congregation to shelter. He’s energetic and witty, and he knows exactly how much time each volunteer has helped out – some as long as 18 years.
“I say I’m a manager,” says Mandelbaum, “because when people ask how I’m doing, I say, ‘I’m managing.’”
Originally, the Kindness Kitchen was supposed to provide food at Beth Shalom, but only 10 or so people showed up to eat. Because Crossroads provides meals every day of the week but Sunday, Mandelbaum and his team saw their chance to fill the gap. The concept has stayed fairly consistent since then, operating on an annual budget of $10,000-$12,000. The only thing that fluctuates is the volume of food; season and unemployment rates have a significant impact.
“In 2008, we saw the economic crisis in the number of sandwiches we were making,” remembers Mandelbaum. “It was alarmingly concrete.”
Although the prep work has always been done at Beth Shalom, and the kitchen is technically kosher – which requires specific supervision and ingredients – the Kindness Kitchen is its own entity, and volunteers come from diverse backgrounds. Whole families show up, including children as young as four. “Ninety percent of them,” he says, “come from hither and yon.”
Their labor is appreciated, and even life-saving. Mandelbaum brings up a picture on his phone – of a note, hand-written on a sheet of paper by a visitor to Crossroads. It reads: “Thank you for this blessing.” To learn more, make a donation, or volunteer, visit JudysKindnessKitchen.org