Five gallons of hot, nutritious milk-based soup was one of two soup offerings today at Soup in the Park for the homeless. (Ernie Over photo) 

(Riverton,  Wyo.) – Today there were two dozen plus four. On usual Tuesday mornings there are between 10 and 20. They are the homeless who gather at the band shell at Riverton City Park for a cup or two of hot soup prepared by volunteers and the staff at the Volunteers of America’s Center for Hope in Riverton. Today’s 10 gallons of soup were both homemade and both came from the “rock soup” tradition. One was a five gallon stainless steel container of soup containing milk, bacon, potatoes and vegetables. The other five gallon crock pot was filled with beans and chicken. After a group prayer, the soup was served and, within 40 minutes, it was gone as folks came back for seconds and thirds. “This would really be good with a hot roll and butter,” one person was heard to say.

“This might be their only meal of the day, ” said Center for Hope Director Merle Yellow Kidney. He said he is looking to create a “empty soup bowl” fundraiser later this spring for the Center for Hope based on soup. “We want to start raising awareness for our fundraiser when we sell empty bowls that buyers can then fill with soup,” he said.

The VOA Center for Hope was formerly known at the Fremont County Alcohol Crisis Center. The board of that former organization agreed to let VOA come in and take control of the center and take detox functions to the next step, that of recovery.

A prayer is offered before the soup lunch. (EO)

A prayer is offered before the soup lunch. (EO)

The tradition of soup in the park began last April when Dana Flint and Chuck Aragon began holding a regular “talking circle” at 10 a.m. on Tuesday mornings. Dana had been working with the homeless throughout Fremont County when she was director of the First Stop Help Center in Lander. Aargon, who works at Riverton Memorial Hospital,  was a member of the Riverton Solutions Committee. The two came together to talk with and establish personal relationships with the homeless and often intoxicated residents who found refuge at the park. Flint later joined the full time staff at VOA.

“We usually brought soup or spaghetti and we would talk with them about their problems and frustrations. The weekly event gave them some structure and we helped them deal with things,” Flint said. “We talked about whatever they had on their mind or in their hearts.” When it turned cold, the group began meeting at a local restaurant, she said.

The Eastern Shoshone Recovery Program’s Myron Littlebird was on hand this day as well. EST Recovery helps with the regular Tuesday soup lunches. One by one, people started showing up at the band shell. Some were driven there, most walked. “See, we’re drawing people here and that is good so we can check on them and find out if anyone is sick or has a special need we can help them with,” Littlebird said. “Other than the Tribal Drug Court, we are the only certified program working on the reservation. We get most of our clients from the courts system.”

After a moment of hesitation, Littlebird acknowledged that he was sad. “You know when you read a tribal member’s obituary, there are paragraphs and columns of family members. But they don’t come here to check on their family members. It’s really sad. We don’t want to sacrifice another tribal member to homelessness or alcoholism,” he said.”If they want help, we try to do all we can to help. What we really need is transitional housing after they come back from treatment.” After another moment, Littlebird also said, “You know, people come here for soup because they know that other people care about them.”

Photos by Ernie Over. Mouse over for captions, click to enlarge.