Nourishing Community

Stone Soup Collective provides healthy food, exercise and education to those in need

click to enlarge Liz Wu and Stone Soup Collective aim to bring people together and creatively improve quality of life.
Liz Wu and Stone Soup Collective aim to bring people together and creatively improve quality of life.

Liz Wu is an instigator of goodness. Her nonprofit organization, Stone Soup Collective, works to bring the community together through outreach initiatives, including clothing and food drives, musical enrichment sessions and lifestyle and wellness education.

In a monthly program called Random Acts of Kindness, Wu and others with Stone Soup Collective act as a kind of flash mob of charitability. Clad in purple and orange in order to stand out and draw awareness for their activities, approximately 25 volunteers recently hit the streets of Covington and distributed healthful snacks to anybody in need. It took place on Mother’s Day. Several pairs of volunteers were mothers and daughters, sharing their time on this matriarchal holiday engaged in altruistic pursuits.

The group’s main destination was Covington Ladies Home, a low-income living facility available to senior women in need. The elderly residents were taking afternoon tea in the home’s sunny sitting room when Wu and volunteers arrived to fill their tables with flowers and fruits. They socialized and reflected on Mother’s Day with the residents as the light melody of harp music played through a boombox. They shared mandarin oranges, bananas, raisins, vitamin C drink powder, roses, tulips and KIND bars (donated by the KIND company), along with simple interaction and words of encouragement.

Outreach programs like this are a part of Stone Soup Collective’s larger mission.

“Basically, we are about providing a space and opportunities for people to come together and connect, with an aim of improving quality of life,” Wu says.

“When people believe they don’t have the power to make a change, they see everything as a roadblock,” she continues. “Like the majority of the population, I’m not happy with the state of affairs. Stone Soup is an expression of what I can do to help.”

“Stone Soup” is a term borrowed from an old French folktale. Three soldiers return from a great war and suffer a desperate homeward voyage through unknown lands. They have no food, and the villagers they encounter are unwilling to share their limited resources with strange, foreign soldiers.

After unsuccessfully soliciting a meal, the soldiers turn to trickery in order to fill their bellies. They offer to teach all of the villagers how to prepare an exquisite dish called stone soup, making enough to feed the whole village. Their interest piqued, the villagers offer a large soup pot in pursuit of this mysterious delicacy. The soldiers instruct the villagers to fill the pot with water and drop in three smooth, round stones from the riverbed. Boiled properly, it could enrich the villagers’ palates with unearthly flavors never before known.

One of the soldiers says the dish is made infinitely more delectable if only a few carrots are added; a villager hurriedly offers this meager contribution. Then the second soldier recommends potatoes, and another local offers them. Meat is also suggested, some is brought, and so on, until the now-filled soup pot contains a medley of delicious ingredients, each a small contribution from a different villager. It’s a moralistic fable that demonstrates the simple ways a community can organize and create something wonderful at no great cost to any individual. Similar myths featuring different ingredients have been recorded all over the world, substituting the stones with buttons, wood, an axe head and nails.

“One carrot, one potato, a little bit of everything — a bowl of soup is better than all of its individual ingredients,” Wu says. “If recognizing you’re not happy with the current state of affairs is the first step, how do you change that? … You take personal steps. It doesn’t necessarily solve the big problem, but it is action and not just commentary. It’s important to get people together, but it has to start with one person — then you’re making a change.”

A certified fitness instructor, Wu pays the rent by traveling between different workplaces in the city and leading Zumba and Pilates classes. She’s also an active musician, playing percussion around the city through various musical outlets, and a former CityBeat contributor, whose writing reflects a passion for human wellness and the intricate ways one can pursue positive, healthful living. Comprehensively, her life is centered around improving the quality of other people’s lives through many facets, which Wu recognizes as beneficial to her own life.

“(Stone Soup Collective’s) outreaches are designed to share with people we encounter,” Wu says. “I hope it’s something to brighten their day. It’s a concept of bringing people together and teaching others. I have always been passionate about music, creativity and wellness, and I see them as being very interconnected. It seems natural to bring them all together in the context of an organization.”

Wu recently received a letter from the Covington Ladies Home, thanking her and the volunteers for their simple, sweet efforts:

“It has been about a week, and the residents are still raving about the flowers and the guests,” the letter says. “We also really enjoyed the healthy snacks. We have other groups that visit for holidays, and they almost always bring some kind of cookie or candy. It was a fresh change to see fresh fruit and granola bars.

“I also want to point out that several of our residents named several of your group as kind, caring, witty and fun. The one-to-one interaction was the most special gift you could give the women that live here.

“Your random acts are always welcome.”

Recognizing one person’s “ingredients” aren’t enough to properly concoct a savory result. Wu is like the inspired chef that arranges all of the parts into something far greater than each individual component.

“I’m not different from anybody else,” Wu says. “Everybody has something to share.”


The collective’s next RANDOM ACTS OF KINDNESS event is set to happen June 14. Check their Facebook page (facebook.com/stonesoupcollective) for more information as it is revealed.


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