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“Abbondanza,” Philip Capone proclaimed Friday, as he dipped his ladle into a pot of pasta fagioli soup.

Guests at the inaugural soup kitchen at St. John the Baptist Episcopal Church’s Couper Hall would need only to look into the pot — teeming with tomato-based broth and al dente pasta — to know that “abbondanza” is the Italian word for abundance.

As serving time (11:30 a.m. to 1:30 p.m.) drew near, about a dozen diners had trickled in and made themselves at home at one of the long tables.

While volunteers were preparing three tall stockpots of Capone’s special recipe of the meatless soup, guests nibbled from the baskets of Italian bread laid out on each table.

And volunteer Mark Goldsworthy regaled them with stories of his stint as Capone’s sous chef, or assistant.

“I spent hours cutting onions,” he said. “My hands still smell like onions.”

And when Goldsworthy hinted that his knife slipped at one point, and “I put a little of myself in the soup,” guests joked about the possibility of finding meat in the vegetarian soup.

When guests tried to slip a dollar bill or two into the pocket of Goldsworthy’s apron, Goldsworthy made it clear the meal is free for all.

“I don’t want anyone feeling like they have to do that. It’s very difficult for me to accept this, but we will use this money for supplies for next week’s soup,” he said.

Guest Lois Williams replied, “I’ll tell you what: We’re a bunch of ladies who appreciate it when we don’t have to cook.”

Her tablemate, Sandra Graack, added, “This is a lot less than we’d pay for a restaurant meal.”

The church launched the soup kitchen as a way to offer food, and the company of other diners, to everyone who wants to partake — at no cost, and with no obligation to hear a Christian message.

The meal itself is a Christian message, according to the Rev. David Mowers.

In announcing at the end of December that the soup kitchen would start in January, and continue every Friday at least while the weather’s cold, Mowers said the tiny congregation’s identity is tied to “making sure people who are hungry get fed.”

Capone, who has 27 years experience as a chef, was recruited to make the soup, from his own collection of recipes.

Pasta fagioli, he said, originated in Naples, and includes pasta, beans and other vegetables.

Williams said, “I know you’re going to make minestrone soon. I can hardly wait.”

Yes, Capone replied, minestrone (a vegetable soup) is on the menu someday, as are creamier, heartier soups, some with meat or seafood.

Capone isn’t a member of St. John the Baptist, and neither is the Rev. Vicki Warren, pastor of Trinity United Church of Christ.

“This is something I was looking, for my own faith place, to do,” Warren said. She said she’d heard about the soup kitchen from friends who’d read about it in the Daily Register, and jumped at the chance to volunteer.

“The first time, we might not have too many, but it will grow as we go on,” she said.

Besides soup and bread, the menu also included tiny oranges and an almond crunch dessert donated by a bakery. There also were donated loaves of artisan bread, and anyone who came to eat soup could take a loaf home on Friday.

Follow Lyn Jerde on Twitter @LynJerde or contact her at 608-745-3587.

Reporter

Portage Daily Register Reporter