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Soup Kitchens and a New Model of Relief: towards self-sustenance

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Abeih Soup Kitchen, Report of the Abeih & Souk AL Gharb Soup Kitchens, Howard Bliss Collection, Archives and Special Collections, Jafet Library , AUB

To try to alleviate the tremendous suffering all around, several Soup Kitchens were set up around the country. One such Soup Kitchen was located at the SPC  Annex on Bliss Street; others were installed at Broummana, Abeih, Souq al Gharb, Sidon and Tripoli by various SPC affiliated Faculty and staff. All volunteers struggled to meet the increasing demand for food, medical supplies and assistance with job searches, etc., stretching thin the extremely precarious resources at their disposal. The model of distributing charity to "worthy individuals" after scrutiny was revised in favor of a model of direct food distribution, of help finding employment in the city or village or even better, whenever possible, of employment at the Relief Center or Soup Kitchen in order to encourage self-empowerment and self-sustenance, all of which allowed for a more efficient usage of the few existing resources, and proved to allow a greater number of people to receive aid, and thus to be saved from starvation and death.

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President Howard Bliss and Dr. Arthur Dray, 2nd row 1st l-r, with other faculty members, ca. 1915

Dr. Arthur Dray, one such SPC Faculty member, took the lead on establishing a Soup Kitchen in Brummana, where he managed, with minimal resources, to keep about fifteen hundred people alive by giving them a single daily meal. The model adopted by Dr. Dray of the "mataim" was to be replicated across the country in Abeih, Souq al Gharb, and Mount Lebanon. Dr. Dray built up on existing local relief efforts, and organized them in a model of efficiency: existing Quaker and local efforts at aid were expanded and dotted with self-sustaining kitchens and work spaces, as well as shelters, clinics, and sometimes, orphanages, children and women's centers. Needy people would receive basic food, some monetary help and/or needed medical treatment, and would then be incorporated into the structure of the shelter, the orphanage or the kitchen, in order to create a self-sustaining work and charity center.


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Children waiting in front of Abeih soup kitchen,  Report of the Abeih & Souk AL Gharb Soup Kitchens, Howard Bliss Collection, Archives and Special Collections, Jafet Library , AUB

In his report on the Abeih and Souk el Gharb Kitchens, Dr. Dodge describes this new startegy towards relief work, modeled after Dr. Dray's  Brummana Kitchen (Mat'am): "In addition to this distribution of grain another scheme was started. An American doctor began a little soup kitchen to help about thirty children in the village of Shemlan. Each child was given a ladle of hot stew or soup and a loaf of bread every day. The cooked food proved to be so wholesome for the children during rainy weather that the plan was immediately enlarged upon. Three other soup kitchens were arranged for under the supervision of the principal of the American School at Souk el Gharb: fifty children were provided for at Souk el Gharb; fifty more at Abeih, and thirty others at another village. Syrian families helped to cook and distribute the food, and the plan proved to be much more economical and advantageous than the giving out of grain alone. It was very gratifying, both at this time and later on in the devleopment of the work, to experience the earnest devotion and cooperation of many of the Syrian helpers, who gave a great deal of their time to the work and were unfailing in their readiness to be of service."

Bayard Dodge, "Report of the Abeih and Suk el-Gharb Soup Kitchens 1914-18", 1919, p.9, AUB Archives.



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Ploughing the ground for corn, Report of the Abeih & Souk AL Gharb Soup Kitchens, Howard Bliss Collection, Archives and Special Collections, Jafet Library , AUB

In addition to providing cooked food, medical care, and work, the Relief efforts tried, following Dr. Dray's model, to encourage self-sustenance: in many cases, relief efforts tried to organize people around silk weaving, ploughing the land, planting corn, wheat, etc., in organized local farming and workshop activities: these efforts helped to sustain a great part of the populaiton in Mount Lebanon. 'one phase of the work was emphasized very consistently. At the evry beginning, the men who received help in Abeih were employed to build a road. When the work became more perfectly organized, everyone who could do something in return for his or her food was called upon to work. People who refused to work or who proved to be dishonest were immediately punished and often dropped altogether, so that relief work became a positive moral factor in the community. Little children were obliged to collect  a certain amount of food for fuel every week, or to spin raw wool on hand spindles. Men and women were expected to transport the wheat to the mill, or else to work as laborers in making repairs and improvements near the soup kitchen."

Bayard Dodge, "Report of the Abeih and Suk el-Gharb Soup Kitchens 1914-18, 1919", p.28-29, AUB Archives.