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Free monthly meal promises hearty soups, good company

Left to right, Donna Miller, Paula Putirskis and Nancy Parlin cook up two batches of fresh soup as they prepare for the Third Tuesday Soup Supper. <i>Judy Wiff photo</i>

As the cooks for the Third Tuesday Soup Supper see it, if they're fixing food, they might as well make a big batch and invite the neighbors.

For going on five years, about 25 volunteers, mostly members of St. Bridget Catholic Church, have been serving soup, bread and dessert to around 65 people on the Third Tuesday of each month.

  • What:Third Tuesday Soup Supper
  • When: 5-6 p.m. third Tuesday of each month
  • Where: St. Bridget Catholic Church, 211 E. Division St., River Falls
  • Cost: Free. Donations are not accepted at meal.

St. Bridget's kitchen and Fellowship Hall were filled with the aroma of simmering vegetables, fish and meat most of the afternoon on the third Tuesday of February as three cooks chopped and stirred, preparing hours ahead for the meal that would begin at 5 p.m.

Other volunteers had already set up the dining area. Soon others would arrive to help serve and clean up.

"It's been a steady group of volunteers," said Nancy Parlin. "I think people really enjoy working on it."

Parlin, Paula Putirskis and Donna Miller, the three cooks working this time, have all been with the program from the beginning.

"If I was at home, I'd be cooking. I just cook for more people here," said Putirskis.

The church has some funds to help with costs, but volunteers often pay for ingredients. Putirskis scoffs at the idea that the project is a lot of work or expense.

"What's the big deal to feed people once a month?" she asked. "It doesn't cost a lot to make soup for 60 to 70 people."

River Falls churches, including St. B's, had already been offering free meals on the second and fourth Tuesdays when this group decided to add another, simpler meal.

The third meal was the brainchild of the Rev. Gerald Harris, said Parlin.

"We just thought it would be nice to have something on the third Tuesday of the month too," she said simply.

Volunteers have divided themselves into tasks -- some set up the dining area, some cook, some pick up bakery items, some make desserts and some clean up.

"They pretty much stick to those tasks," said Putirskis.

While most volunteers are adults who help regularly, the crews also include families, the River Ramblers 4-H Club members and kids in the confirmation class.

The number of cooks ranges from three to eight, and two are in charge of picking recipes, planning and shopping.

"We're always chopping vegetables," said Parlin, adding that the vegetable scraps go to Putirskis' chickens: "They're the ultimate beneficiaries."

Cindy Dehler provides four to five pans of cakes or bars every month. Family Fresh Market donates bakery items.

The guests are generally adults, though coordinators welcome and would like to see more families.

"It's a lot of the same people. It's partly for the food, but there's a lot of sociability too," said Parlin of the guests. "It's just a community thing."

Each meal includes two kinds of soup, bread and desserts. Sometimes there are also sandwiches. Last week's soups were beef barley vegetable and fish chowder.

"The people who come seem to like what we have," said Parlin.

"I've never heard one complaint," agreed Miller. She said guests often take a bowl of one kind of soup and come back for a serving of the second kind.

"It's a really great River Falls thing to have three Tuesdays of the month covered," said Parlin. "I'm very proud of River Falls for how well we do things like this."

While donations are not accepted during meals, the cooks said they could use contributions of meat or donations to the church to help pay for other ingredients.

"We really like people to come," said Parlin. "Come here...," she began.

Putirskis finished the sentence, "and we will fill your bellies."

Judy Wiff

Judy Wiff has been regional editor for RiverTown’s Wisconsin newspapers since 1996. She holds a bachelor’s degree in journalism and sociology from UW-River Falls. She has worked as a reporter for several weekly newspapers in Wisconsin.