How Volunteering at a Soup Kitchen Changed Stephen Henderson's Life and Inspired His New Book

Stephen Henderson's book, The 24-Hour Soup Kitchen: Soul-Stirring Lessons in Gastrophilanthropy, is available now, with 100% of proceeds benefiting Food Bank for New York City

Stephen Henderson

When Stephen Henderson was traveling on assignment to New Delhi, India to cover the country's fashion week as a journalist years ago, he never expected to come across a soup kitchen that would change his life forever. Stumbling upon it after partnering with a young design student who acted as a guide during his visit, Henderson was intrigued by the volunteer-run operation.

"[The soup kitchen] was run by volunteers who don’t know from day to day what food is going to show up or who's going to show up to cook it. But they know that 20,000 people are going to show up to eat it," he shares with PEOPLE.

Astonished by the soup kitchen's efforts, he arranged to go back to New Delhi where he cooked for a week, and thus his interest in what he describes as "mass cookery" began.

Now, 10 years since his initial visit to the country's soup kitchen, and with many more volunteer efforts both domestic and in countries such as Israel and South Korea under his belt, Henderson has written his own book — The 24-Hour Soup Kitchen: Soul-Stirring Lessons in Gastrophilanthropy — where he details the different ways in which people in need across the globe are fed by soup kitchens.

Stephen Henderson
Courtesy of Stephen Henderson

Recognizing that soup kitchens need help 365 days a year, Henderson continued to travel the world to spread kindness.

By adding on extra personal days to his business trips, Henderson would spend his free days volunteering and learning how many of the world's neediest were fed throughout the world.

"In Iran or Mexico, Japan or South Korea, I would research and find out about the charity kitchen in that part of the world and arrange to cook there," he says. "I think that a lot of people think soup kitchens are great but they wouldn't dream of just showing up at one and saying let me help, and that really touched me."

And so he has decided to do just that. He has since traveled to over 25 soup kitchens around the world.

Stephen Henderson
Courtesy of Stephen Henderson

And now, with the coronavirus pandemic still a large issue across the globe, Henderson notes that soup kitchens need aid "now more than ever."

Henderson, currently volunteering at a soup kitchen in upstate New York, shares, "You don't have to have a culinary degree or be a saint to just go volunteer at a soup kitchen for a few days or a few hours. It's so easy to just go online and find a soup kitchen near you. Any degree of help anyone is willing to give is welcomed."

He adds, "If you want to buy three cans of tuna fish and drop them off, great. If you want to go help make tuna noodle casserole for 200 people, great. One is not necessarily greater and it doesn't make you a better person."

"The actual experience of helping out ... It's a blessing. It's a life-changing experience to be in that situation. And they need you kind of as much as you need them."

The 24-Hour Soup Kitchen: Soul-Stirring Lessons in Gastrophilanthropy is available now, with 100% of proceeds benefiting Food Bank for New York City.

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