If you would have asked Karen Nochimowski 5 years ago if she thought she would have a recipe blog with over 80,000 followers and would be opening a soup kitchen, she might have actually laughed in your face.
A busy mother of three active boys, Karen has loved cooking for as long as she can remember. After friends and family begged to be let in on her culinary secrets, she came with the idea of a food blogging as it is such a challenge for mothers to create dinners for the children in short amounts of time with frequently-used ingredients. The tagline for her blog, MommaChef.com, is “6 ingredients – 6 minutes to prep”; perfect for even the busiest moms out there!
After creating recipes that left everyone raving, Karen wanted to do something more meaningful. She spent time thinking and the idea of starting a Kosher soup kitchen felt like a recipe made in heaven.
While speaking with other organizations in the Chicago area that are currently running a soup kitchen or have previously done so, she was encouraged, but the consensus view was that it was going to be financially and logistically difficult to get her project started alone, highlighting the many struggles that she would face. Her resolve only hardened.
One day she came up with the idea of where to do it – Congregation KINS of West Rogers Park. She emailed the shul and waited eagerly for a response.
Upon receiving Karen’s email, Richard Silverman, president of KINS, was intrigued, but curious as to “who this person was that I received an email from and what her connection was to wanting to start a soup kitchen at our shul? Nevertheless, I felt that we absolutely needed to meet with her to see what this was all about because it sounded like there was an incredible opportunity here.”
Rabbi Matanky, Rabbi of Congregation KINS, enthusiastically agreed. “We must do this. We have a responsibility to the community and we must figure out how to make this happen.”
When it came time for the three to meet, Rabbi Matanky and Richard Silverman were utterly blown away by Karen, her idea about the soup kitchen, her passion for this type of chesed, and her enthusiasm in using her skills and talents to help those in need. There was no doubt about it – KINS was going to open this soup kitchen in the heart of the Chicago Jewish community. The shul’s congregants leaped on board with the project as organizers as evidenced by the fact that volunteers have already signed up to cover the next 9 months of Tuesday evening dinners. Rabbi Matanky noted that “our shul is open to everyone. Even on the high holidays, we have those who we haven’t seen since the previous high holidays. A person in need is a person in need. Our goal in creating this soup kitchen is to preserve the dignity of the people who are in need and to welcome as many as possible.”
By and large, the people who come to the soup kitchen have a roof over their head but are simply in need of a meal. There are others, as Richard Silverman pointed out, “that come with all of their worldly possessions, simply appreciative of the opportunity to receive a freshly cooked meal and socialize with others in a comfortable environment.”
At Momma Chef’s Soup Kitchen, the tables are covered with linen tablecloths and vased flowers. The Soup Kitchen is set up in a restaurant dining style to have the guests dine in dignity. Each week a four-course meal is served to the guests by the many volunteers. Karen served her honey-mustard chicken the first week “as a reflection and in appreciation of [her] blog, since the first recipe I ever posted was honey-mustard chicken.” After the guests enjoy their meal, they are provided with a brown-bagged lunch for the following day.
Momma Chef’s Soup Kitchen at Congregation KINS is eager to work with schools, organizations and individual mitzvah projects from all age ranges.
Karen has gotten a graphic designer, grocery stores, bakeries, etc. to all donate their time, skills, and resources so that there is NO cost to the guests of the soup kitchen. There are no administrative costs because Karen donates all of her time, energy, and talent to the soup kitchen. There are no staffing or clean-up costs because everyone who comes volunteers. Karen Ecanow is not only the volunteer coordinator, but she is also there almost every week helping the soup kitchen run as smoothly as it does. The endeavor is made possible through donations of supplies and monetary donations from Karen’s friends, family, and many other Chicago community supporters.
Momma Chef’s Soup Kitchen serves dinner to its guests every Tuesday evening at 6:00 pm at Congregation KINS. Karen and Congregation KINS are so grateful to everyone that has made a contribution to this worthy cause. If you, or anyone you know, is interested in contributing to help support Momma Chef’s Soup Kitchen please visit https://mommachef.com/soup-kitchen/