Soup N’ Ladle serves the Tacoma community through community meals, local partnerships and skill-based cooking classes
By Christian Weaner Photo by Blue Zones
When Rachel Kelly and her family first moved to Tacoma 11 years ago, they were on a tight budget which, for lower-income households, means a limited diet as well. But Rachel was determined to help her family eat healthy and sustainable meals. Whether she had to throw something together with just a few dollars’ worth of groceries or even go foraging for berries in a local park, Rachel did whatever she could to put quality foods on the table for her family.
“We were low-income, and we knew a lot of friends that were also low-income,” Rachel described. “But we were able to eat really healthy because of my background in food. I was able to create a lot of things that were really good and be creative with whatever I could get my hands on.”
Around this time Rachel began organizing a monthly community meal at her church, Parkland Foursquare, and with so many friends asking her for advice about recipes and cooking tips, an idea was born.
Eight years, thousands of meals and hundreds of cooking classes later, Rachel’s nonprofit—Soup N’ Ladle—is continuing to adapt and serve the needs of the Tacoma community, helping to make healthy eating more accessible for everyone.
Growing up in California, Rachel learned many of her culinary skills at a young age from her mother.
“I grew up in the kitchen, cooking with my mom,” Rachel recalled. “So, I have a lot of good memories, and I have taken everything she’s taught me and expanded on it and made it my own.”
When Rachel and her husband moved to Washington in 2012, they did so as a complete leap of faith. But after arriving in Tacoma, they quickly fell in love with the area and all that it had to offer.
“We just really enjoy raising our children here,” Rachel emphasized. “We love the community, we love the beauty, and we don’t mind the weather. I consider [Tacoma] to be our home, and we don’t ever want to leave.”
Rachel earned a bachelor's degree in psychology and initially planned to go into education, but after starting her family, her goals and aspirations shifted. Despite deciding not to become a counselor, she has been able to use those skills in other productive ways.
“I really felt that the best way to impact the community and bless other people was to be involved one-on-one rather than in a therapy situation,” Rachel noted.
After starting the community meals at her church, Rachel applied for Soup N’ Ladle to become an official state nonprofit organization in 2015.
Working with the soup kitchen’s clients, Rachel slowly became aware of the numerous obstacles that many low-income households face when it comes to eating healthy. Not everyone owns a stove, some people work multiple jobs and do not have time to cook extravagant meals, while others struggle with diabetes.
“Working in food pantries has been very impactful and eye-opening for me because it’s helped me to understand the barriers that exist for us to access healthy foods,” Rachel explained.
One of Rachel’s primary goals is to combat the issue of diabetes, which is prevalent in many low-income households. So, each monthly meal features diabetic-friendly foods that taste good and are affordable.
In 2019, Soup N’ Ladle became a 501c3, but the COVID-19 pandemic caused a shakeup that led Rachel to begin pursuing new opportunities for the organization.
Combining her culinary background and passion for education, Rachel began leading free cooking classes.
In 2021, she started working in some of the local schools and partnered with Metro Parks Tacoma to offer classes to children in the area. Rachel has always loved seeing her students get excited about healthy foods, taking skills home with them that they can use every day.
“Parents love us because their kids come home and want to make them dinner,” Rachel joked.
In the last year, Soup N’ Ladle has also begun to offer classes to adults in the community, showing people how to make sustainable foods from scratch.
“All of our classes are skills-based rather than recipe-based, so that they can permeate across different cultures and so that you can create food that represents you and your needs in the kitchen,” Rachel explained.
“Instead of saying, ‘This is how you make mac and cheese,’” Rachel continued, “we would discuss emulsions, which is the process of combining oil and water using protein—and that’s how you make sauce.”
Rachel knew that the organization needed to find a way to create sustainable income aside from grants and donations, and after speaking with the owners of several local food pantries, new partnerships were formed.
Through the commercial kitchen space that Soup N’ Ladle now rents, Rachel makes 25 to 50 pounds of pre-made meals each week that are either given away at nearby food pantries or sold to help support the organization. Over the past year, Rachel’s new slogan has become, “We sell food to give food.”
Currently, Rachel works with a team of approximately 15 people—a part-time teacher, a rotation of volunteers and a board of five people—who work tirelessly to serve about 250 meals per month.
For Rachel, what she does at Soup N’ Ladle is so important because she has been there, she understands the struggles of low-income families, and she has seen how empowering it can be when people realize they can control their diet and make healthy, sustainable choices with their food.
So, whether it’s running the community meals, teaching cooking classes or sitting and listening to someone’s story, everything Rachel and her organization do is to support the community of Tacoma.
“Our focus for the nonprofit is people, first and foremost,” Rachel concluded. “Listening to what’s going on with them and how we can partner with them—meeting them where they are.”