By Sam Bojarski
The Life of Hope Center in East Flatbush is among at least nine organizations serving free soup joumou on Jan. 1.
Life of Hope is offering the soup as part of its Ayiti Nou La Toujou Haitian Independence celebration, which will also feature a virtual show streamed via Facebook Live in the afternoon.
“What January First represents to us and the world is liberty and freedom,” Life of Hope Executive Director Porez Luxama said. “That’s what our founders fought for, not just for Haiti but for Black people to be free around the world.”
Since the Republic of Haiti’s founding in 1804, Haitians have consumed soup joumou ‒ a hearty pumpkin soup typically made with its namesake vegetable, other ground provisions, potato and beef. Prior to that date, soup joumou had been reserved as a delicacy for the white enslavers to enjoy. After 1804, it became customary to serve soup joumou as part of the civic activities to commemorate Haiti’s independence from French rule and becoming the first Black republic in the modern world.
Each year, Haitians in Haiti and across the diaspora prepare a pot of soup on Jan. 1 as families, friends and neighbors visit each other’s homes to partake in each other’s version of the rich stew and present their good wishes for a happy, prosperous new year.
This year, the public commemorations appear subdued due to coronavirus. However, inside homes and community groups, Haitian-American cooks are firing up their stoves. Outside Haitian-American homes, many are taking a pass at the iconic dish after an inauthentic recipe in Bon Appétit recipe caused quite the stir in early December.
Starting at 2 p.m., volunteers will serve bowls of soup at Life of Hope’s office, 710 E. 37th St., on a first-come, first-serve basis. The group has enough supplies to serve nearly 200 bowls. Social distancing guidelines will be observed at the center.
The virtual show begins at 5 p.m., with recorded messages from political and religious leaders. Brooklyn Borough President Eric Adams, New York City Public Advocate Jumaane Williams, District 42 New York State Assembly Member Rodneyse Bichotte, District 46 State Assembly Member Mathylde Frontus, District 45 City Council Member Farah Louis and Rev. Juan Luxama, a Life of Hope board member, are among those sharing messages that will connect the importance of Haitian history to the struggle for Black liberation, Luxama said.
Brooklyn-based jazz and Haitian roots band Alegba and Friends will perform live from a studio, along with the Bloodline Dance Theatre Co. The event will also feature recorded virtual performances from other artists, including singer Jess Lamarre.
Restaurants serve up free soup joumou
Through a separate initiative, a donation of $10,000 has allowed at least eight Haitian restaurants in the New York City metropolitan area to serve complimentary soup joumou on Haitian Independence Day.
The gastronomic gift is the result of a partnership between a Haitian-led staffing agency and New York District 43 Assembly Member Diana Richardson, who represents portions of the Crown Heights, Prospect-Lefferts Gardens, Wingate and Flatbush neighborhoods. Free soup at the participating restaurants is available that day while supplies last.
Jensen Desrosiers, a community activist and entrepreneur who also works as a liaison for Citi Health Home Care Services, the home health aide placement agency, said the complimentary offering is designed to educate and build cross-cultural connections.
Haitian Independence Day isn’t limited to Haitians only to celebrate, he said.
“As far as we’re concerned, it should include everyone else of color,” Desrosiers said. “Through [our] culture, we would like to bridge the gap.”
Multiple organizational sponsors have facilitated the soup initiative. These sponsors ‒ health insurers Fidelis Care and Aetna, health care companies Big Apple Walk-in Urgent Care and New York Avenue Medical Group, insurance agency Dorlette Brokerage and tax preparer Grafiti Tax ‒ donated money to fund the effort, Desrosiers confirmed.
Richardson, a descendant of Aruban immigrants, acknowledged the soup’s significance in marking the triumph over slavery during an event Tuesday in Brooklyn announcing the initiative. In a year defined by a pandemic that has claimed the lives of more than 24,000 New York City residents, the soup will also be offered as a token of good luck, Richardson said.
“We’re going to be giving out that token of warmth and love,” Richardson said. “Any time that we can really celebrate culture and heritage, but be intentional about it, is a moment for us all to come together.”
Partners in the soup joumou giveaway have found participating Haitian restaurants in Brooklyn, Queens and Long Island to prepare the soup and serve it on New Year’s Day 2021. The $10,000 committed by sponsors has covered the costs for restaurants to prepare the dish, organizers said.
“Zanmi simply means friend, and we consider the community to be our friends,” Spencer said. “We know that times are hard for everybody right now, so we’re just doing something to uplift and bring the community closer together.”
Participating restaurants will have the soup available during their regular operating hours. The free soup will be offered to any patron who requests it, Desrosiers said.
Below is the current list of restaurants that will be providing free soup joumou on Jan. 1. The list has been updated from a previous version of this article and is subject to change. For more information, contact Citi Health at 718-856-6800.
Dana Caribbean Cuisine, 2026 Nostrand Ave., Brooklyn, NY 11210 ‒ 718-484-2335
Fritaille Five Star Restaurant, 1347 Flatbush Ave., Brooklyn, NY 11210 ‒ 718-975-0916
Kache Restaurant, 2192 Flatbush Ave., Brooklyn, NY 11234 ‒ 347-705-8181
Kal’s Bakery, 3401 Church Ave., Brooklyn, NY 11203 ‒ 718-462-8786
Zanmi Restaurant, 1206 Nostrand Ave., Brooklyn, NY 11225 ‒ 718-676-1047
Queens & Long Island
Good Taste Catering, 229-02 Linden Boulevard, Cambria Heights, NY 11411 ‒ 718-276-4619
Nanas Bistro & Catering, 205-20 Jamaica Ave., Queens, NY 11423 ‒ 718-749-5382
Le Spot Restaurant, 476 Hempstead Turnpike, Elmont, NY 11003 ‒ 516-233-1003