If you happened to be walking in the windy rain last week past the William J. O’Shea complex on West 77th Street that houses three schools, you might have caught the aroma of garlic and potatoes and carrots and beans wafting out of the cafeteria window.
But it wasn’t a school lunch crew working overtime. Rather, around 100 families had gathered from P.S. 452 to each add their own ingredients to one big community soup and for a re-telling of the Stone Soup folktale.
The first initiative of the school’s Community Building Committee—whose mission is to organize free, diverse PS452 school community events that bring families and staff together—the evening also included a potluck feast featuring food from many different cultures and homes.
The Stone Soup folktale depicts the story of some very hungry travelers who enter a village of comfortable people who refuse to share their food. To fill their bellies, the travelers come up with a clever scheme: in the middle of the town, they put a large stone in a pot over fire and tell the villagers that they are making a wonderful “stone soup”, which needs just a bit of something else to reach its full taste potential. Eventually the villagers on their own volition bring their stashes of vegetables and seasonings to the pot, until a delicious and nourishing pot of soup is made and shared by all.
As the P.S. 452 families flowed into the cafeteria, they shed their raingear and took their seats on the benches of the table-clothed lunch tables. Laughing and bantering with friends, many of the children held their families’ Tupperware containers filled with already diced, cooked ingredients, eager to contribute to the soup. The noise quieted down as Charlotte Arboleda, one of the school’s teachers, began to read a version of the Stone Soup story aloud in front of the room. Her colleague, Brooke Josefs, walked around the room with the book held high to display the pictures in it. Another teacher, Rebecca Gartman — who teaches kindergarden and chairs the school’s Community Building Committee — stood behind a table with around five or six broth-filled crockpots and some large stirring and scooping utensils. Several parents were also positioned to stir and scoop.
When Arboleda reached the moment in the story when the villagers first claim to need just one ingredient—some carrots—to perfect the soup, the first-graders in the room lined up to one-by-one add their carrot slices to the steaming broth. Their classmates followed with celery. When the villagers then claimed to need a potato or two, the second-graders formed a line. Prompted by the story, the third graders approached the crockpots with green beans. Diced tomatoes and cabbage were added next, courtesy of the fourth-graders. Finally, like the folktale’s villagers, the kindergardeners added their chopped onion and garlic. And in the last moment of the tale, when one final ingredient was needed to make the soup just right, the fifth graders came forth each with their own individual pinch of mixed spices.
At least three times during the reading, the school’s music teacher lead the recorder-players in a specially composed song to which the others sang along:
“Stone Soup, Stone Soup,
Bring what you have got;
Stone Soup, Stone Soup,
Put it in the Pot.”
Like the hungry travellers and villagers, upon the end of the book the children, parents, teachers and school staff enjoyed the soup, and the accompanying potluck feast, together. A parent-driven green cleanup effort ensured that all materials were recycled and composted.
“In today’s world, the magic of kindness cannot be outdone, and when we come together like this we make meaningful connections to those around us,” explained Gartman, reflecting on the event and the mission of her team. “This is so important for us to model and build for our children and for ourselves, too.”
The Community Building Committee is in the midst of planning for future potential events that will bring together the P.S. 452 faculty, staff, parents, and children. Some ideas in the works include a United Nations Day to celebrate different cultures and languages, a Sports Night (families vs. school staff, perhaps?), and an Art Show. Surely in them all will be the one most delectable ingredient: sharing.
Laura Schiller is a parent at P.S. 452