BALTIMORENestled in the heart of one of Baltimore's most economically disadvantaged neighborhoods, Our Lady Of Saving Grace Soup Kitchen is celebrating its 10th year of doling out bowl after bowl of ineffectual soup, as if it's some kind of magical poverty cure-all. While a reasonable person would expect to have made some headway after a decade, director Bill Cauldwell is apparently unable to see the forest for the trees.
"Our message is very simple," said Cauldwell, serving more of his precious beef barley. "If you're in need, we are here for you."
What's worse, the apparently clueless Cauldwell does not work alone. A whole passel of misguided soup-ladlers have joined his one-armed dance of denial.
"I volunteer because I am able," said 27-year-old Marcia Yamamoto, after an eight-hour unpaid shift scrubbing Cauldwell's cauldrons. "No one should go hungry when others have so much."
The soup kitchen's budget comes mostly from donations by private citizens and Baltimore-area businesses. Additional money, in sums of up to $15,000 per year, comes courtesy of government handouts, paid for by taxpayers like the readers of this article.
"We've put together a great grant proposal for next year, focusing on our desire to improve our outreach services," Cauldwell boasted. "We want to better serve our older and disabled neighbors who can't always get to the church and could really use our help."
But experts say those in need would be better off getting help somewhere else. According to Baltimore-area physician Dr. Philip Friedman, a single serving of soup does not meet the daily nutritional needs of the average adult.
"It's always a good idea to eat a balanced meal," Friedman said. "And I suppose a good soup can contain several different food groups. But it's not enough for a whole day."
Friedman, an actual medical doctor who does not have a lot of pie-in-the-sky ideas about soup, added that he did not know of any studies proving that soup alone could restore the health of sick people or house and clothe any of Baltimore's estimated 3,000 homeless.
"I'm proud of what we've accomplished, but I know there are many out there we're not able to reach," said Cauldwell, who works tirelessly to coordinate schedules, plan menus, organize fund-raisers, and sometimes prepare the soup himself, all for nothing. "If we had better facilities, we could help even more people."
But even if the soup kitchen were bankrolled by Bill Gates, it could not get Renaldo Davis a job. At 49, Davis is no less schizophrenic than he was three years ago, when he ate his first bowl of free soup, nor is he any closer to holding down a job or establishing a meaningful social relationship with another person.
Asked if the years of sponging homemade split pea and chicken noodle soup had led to any measurable psychiatric improvement for him, Davis just looked confused.
Yet neither his failure to help those like Davis nor his inability to repair Baltimore's infrastructure, cure cancer, or alleviate basic human suffering has fazed Cauldwell, who maintains that the soup kitchen "helps people."
"What everyone forgets is that these people are like you and me," Cauldwell said. "You never know what may happen to you. We just want to bring people a little food and dignity. There but for the grace of God."
Any guidance counselor will tell you that dignity and self-esteem come from within, and not from soup. Nice try, Mr. Cauldwell.