I have a confession: as a pre-teen, I was obsessed with every version of the Chicken Soup for the Soul books. You know what I’m talking about; those are the books full of short stories designed to pull at your heartstrings. I still love short stories, but I like to think my taste has developed a bit over the years, too.

Fast forward to my early thirties. It was then I decided to accept a job that would take me from Detroit to St. Louis, exactly 602 miles from my family and friends. I had a few connections in St Louis and was excited for a new adventure. As it happened, however, the built-in community I had upon my arrival soon moved away, and I found myself lonely in a new city.

It’s not in my nature to sit in discontent for long, so I had to figure out a way to foster connection and build relationships in St Louis. My parents modeled genuine hospitality throughout my entire life, so I opted to follow their lead and start inviting people over! At the time, my office was in a co-working space where I knew a handful of people. Between those connections and the acquaintances made through my neighborhood association, I compiled a list of twenty people and invited them all to my apartment for some chicken soup.

Extending these invitations felt so vulnerable—I immediately regretted my decision! I was so worried that nobody would come or that it would be a terrible time. I didn’t have long to sit in my regret. It was only a few days later and almost every person I invited showed up for soup. People brought food and wine to share, and we finished the last drop of chicken soup. We were packed into my second-floor apartment, with many people sitting on the floor. To me, this is the very definition of chicken soup for the soul—a simple meal shared with good people.

A few gatherings in, one regular attender brought me four folding chairs. She told me she found them at an estate sale and thought the extra seating would be helpful. Folks began inviting others and our network grew.

I began to call these little gatherings “Soup Kitchen,” and I would host them about once a month. I didn’t set a regular gathering time; I simply picked an evening that worked for me. Oftentimes, I would be prompted by a regular attender: “Sara! When’s the next soup kitchen!?” I’d set a date and send out the invites.

Not too long after I started Soup Kitchen, I fell in love with a house a few blocks away and made an offer. When I moved to that cute brick charmer, I searched Craigslist for a dining room table that could accommodate these gatherings. I found the perfect listing: it was $100 and had three whole leaves. When I went to pick it up, I told the seller about Soup Kitchen and how this table would be used. By the time I left with the table, she wouldn’t accept payment. She was just so happy that it was going to be used in a communal way.

Over the years, dozens of people (and dogs!) have stopped by to enjoy a bowl of soup with neighbors. Many of those people have become dear friends and are a meaningful part of my community here in St. Louis.

I’m so glad that I found the courage to extend the invitation for a humble pot of soup to people I didn’t know very well. It was the beginning of a beautiful season in my life, full of depth and community.

If you want to extend an invitation to neighbors but you’re nervous to do so, I hope you’ll go for it! It might be exactly what your community needs.