Soup’s on at Fort Lewis College, and it has been for some time now as Manna soup kitchen keeps finding ways to provide for the community.
Manna has been partnering with the school’s Grub Hub, which provides students with free groceries, by providing soup since at least March 2022 and maybe longer, according to the collective memories of Manna Chef Seanan Culloty and Fort Lewis College Needs Coordinator Stella Zhu.
“Grub Hub is basically a food pantry for students,” Culloty said. “And we met with them and learned a lot of students struggle with housing and this and that, and they were like it would be really nice to provide something students can just grab and go between classes. So I was like, I could do soup.”
Manna had been providing burritos and sandwiches, but high on students’ wish list was hot meals they could grab on the go, Zhu said.
“As a student, time and convenience are two of the biggest limiting factors besides the financial barriers to having a full meal, because they are rushing from class to class,” she said. “So making a meal is really hard when you don’t have the capacity to plan or the flexibility in your schedule. So having a hot meal is really special for them. And they don’t have to eat a granola bar or Ramen.”
The soup has been so popular that “soup time” (10 a.m. until it runs out – Monday to Friday) has become a hangout stop for students, as well as a magnet for staff members and faculty as word – and the scent – spread across campus.
“Right now, I have 10 students in the Grub Hub and they all love it and are asking about the recipe,” Zhu said Wednesday. “It is very rarely that we have leftovers at the end of the day because it is so popular. I definitely see staff and faculty come in, especially when there’s a really popular soup. I’ve had faculty come in and say, ‘A student was having it in my class and it smelled so good.’ It speaks to the community-building aspect of food.”
The soup is prepared at Manna and then student volunteers retrieve it and place it in steam tables at the Grub Hub, which is located in the Student Union building across from the post office.
“I’ve been doing about 50 cups a day up there,” Culloty said. “And the really cool thing about it is that there’s a stigma about coming to get free groceries, especially if you are a college student. And what’s happened is it’s turned out to be a hangout for students, it’s created a little culture up there.”
Culloty whips the soup up from scratch, mixing it up day-to-day, using food that has been donated to Manna. He estimates there have been 5,000 cups of soup served since March 2022.
“Seanan is the best,” Zhu said. “He’s like a friggin’ rock star. We love him. And the students love him too, whenever he’s up here. It’s a really good opportunity for people to put a face to the name of someone who has been providing their lunch. So they are all really excited to learn about who he is.”
Zhu still salivates when she thinks about one particular soup.
“There was this chicken pozole that Seanan made a few months ago that I still dream about,” she said.
The soup will continue to flow for students year-round during weekdays. And Grub Hub, which moved into the Student Union in the fall of 2021 – which led to a big increase in usage – will continue to elevate its game to provide groceries to students, Zhu said.
“Come and just grab whatever you need however often you need,” Zhu implored students. “You are totally welcome to do so. We don’t believe that it’s just food assistance. We know it’s also about dignity and choice. So there’s no limit, everything is self-serve based on a client-choice model that takes feedback from students to inform our inventory. We really believe that it’s a community space run by students for students. And we really honor that.”
The Grub Hub receives about half of its food from Care and Share Food Bank in Colorado Springs and purchases the other half. Sodexo also provides hot meals twice a week on Tuesdays and Wednesdays. The Hub serves an average of 1,800 student visits a month.
“Food is one of those variable costs that goes when you are struggling financially because it’s the easiest thing to opt out of,” Zhu said. “You can convince yourself to skip breakfast if you need to make rent. And that’s not what we want. When you are studying and writing papers, you need nutrients, you need sustenance to get you through.”
A previous version of this story misspelled Talissa Bahr’s first name in a photo caption.