Students in attendance at Interfaith Lunch on Feb. 19 were treated to a lecture by Ari Pliskin, the executive director of the Stone Soup Café. Stone Soup Café is a “pay what you can” soup kitchen alterative located in Greenfield, Mass that serves only organic food. The café nourishes a diverse community within the Greenfield area with a luncheon meal on Saturdays. This organization’s goal is to eliminate hunger by offering a free and healthy meal in addition to other services.
The Stone Soup Café also provides weekly wellness services, group counseling services and live music once a month. The café is unique in that those who volunteer their time to prepare the space and the food eat with the people that they serve. The volunteers’ ability to gather for a meal with their diners builds a strong community and connects people from diverse social groups and classes. It eliminates any separation that could possibly emerge amongst the workers and those using the Stone Soup café’s services. This divide is also lessened through opening and closing circle exercises, where all in attendance share their joys and struggles with each other.
The Stone Soup Café was founded in 2012 on the principles of the Zen Peacemakers and the Unitarian Universalist Church. These groups emphasize the importance of bearing witness to the world around them and promoting the worth and dignity of each person. The inspiration to create the Stone Soup Café came when Plikskin and other Buddhist volunteers visited various soup kitchens. According to an interview in The Recorder Newspaper, Plikskin said, “A lot of people would treat us with plenty of love, but not necessarily any dignity. There was a separation between server and served. We asked, ‘How do we create an environment where people are more connected, where we’re all adding something and all benefiting?’”
Even the name of the café reflects this principle of sharing through community. The Stone Soup fable is one in which a traveler asks villagers for small portions of food, but they refuse him. Undeterred, as the story describes, he puts a stone in a kettle of boiling water and waits as one by one the villagers add ingredients, resulting in a hearty and delicious meal for all.
The importance of a shared meal and creating a peaceful environment for those of all religious backgrounds is absolutely essential. As Pliskin mentioned in a post on The Recorder’s website, “Through my work at the Stone Soup Café, I have experienced great resonance with fellow practitioners of yoga and Buddhism and also with Unitarian Universalists, Christians, Quakers, Muslims, Jews, agnostics. People of no faith and others.”
Pliskin’s familiarity with various religions made it fitting that he spoke at Interfaith Lunch, where people of all faith backgrounds are welcome to discuss various issues facing communities of faith and the world at large.
These Interfaith Lunches and discussions are part of the Office of Religious and Spiritual Life’s mission to “foster deep, personal and collective spiritual practice that cultivates an inclusive community working towards spiritual depth, moral development and social justice.” This purpose is similar in nature to that of the Stone Soup Café, and Jennifer Sanborn, the interim dean of Religious and Spiritual Life elaborated on this point, mentioning that all religions share a common theme. “As far as I can tell, all ethical, healthy religious and philosophical belief systems support our responsibility for one another and for the world at large, and we often enact this responsibility through acts of service. Though we call these acts by different names, and we are perhaps motivated by different rationales, we must partner with one another to ensure the well-being of all, particularly those who are most vulnerable.”
Phoebe Cos ’16 also mentioned the importance of community service through religion, and is eager to volunteer at the Café in the future. “I think one thing all religions have in common…is [the] compassion and the desire to spread compassion among human beings. Community service embodies this spiritual compassion in a way that meshes well with religious communities. I think Mount Holyoke students should be involved in community service as it not only opens one’s heart to different ways of life, but it also makes you realize the reality of situations that we study daily in classes on campus.”
Through the use of organic and creative food, the Stone Soup Café serves over 100 people every weekend and is a vital part of the Greenfield community. Many Mount Holyoke students are eager to assist the Cafe in their mission of building community and ending hunger. As Levitt said to The Recorder, “The idea of having a meal is old; the idea of creating a sustainable model of social entrepreneurship where all people are equal, where judgment is suspended…where you offer an environment for people to explore, expand and grow, that’s exciting.”