Soup’s Up—and So is Fresh Produce

It was a steamy day in East Harlem, but the heat didn’t slow down our Soup’s Up staff. They were chopping up piles of perfectly diced tomatoes, peppers and cucumbers at their usual blinding speed.  

Each week, Soup’s Up creates a heathy plant-based dish—in this case, a summery chickpea salad—and distributes it to older adults in the area along with a selection of fresh produce. It’s the most recent addition to our lineup of hunger-fighting programs, which includes a weekly food pantry and daily affordable lunches at our Older Adult Center.

Director Sarah Jackson said the program fills a key niche. While the pantry includes a lot of “shelf-stable goods — cans, boxes, bottles, things that will last a little longer,” she explained, Soup’s Up is all about fresh foods. 

The program also incorporates a second major goal of the Isaacs Center: helping young people become thriving adults. Soup’s Up gets its staff from our Culinary Arts training program, so it provides extra education and experience for young adults getting started in the food business. The staffers do everything from preparing the food to sorting the produce to distributing the finished product to participants. 

Jackson says this contact between staff and participants creates some powerful intergenerational moments. “The recipients will say, ‘Tell the chef I liked the soup last week’—and I tell them the chef is right here, they’re 21 years old and from the Bronx, and they not only delivered it to you but they made it!” she laughs. 

This spring. Soup’s Up has ramped up production to serve some 1250 households a month—an increase of about 40%. The program is not currently taking on new participants, but Jackson hopes to change that after building additional kitchen space at the Isaacs Center this fall. The new facilities will allow Soup’s Up to stop renting a commercial kitchen and spend that money on food instead.  

Isaacs Center member Eugenia Ortiz, known to all by her nickname, Margie, says Soup’s Up is a lifeline to healthy food: “Vegetables are very expensive now in supermarkets and farmers markets so the vegetables that Miss Sarah gives us help us stay nutritious and healthy. We have a lot of people who come for Soup’s Up and they are thankful to get these vegetables.”