Battling Hunger in Detroit

The Capuchins in Detroit in the late 19th and early 20th centuries


There was a lot of poverty in Detroit, and across the country, in the late 19th and early 20th centuries.  In Detroit at that time, much of that poverty was experienced by Black Detroiters and the large population of immigrant Detroiters such as those who were Polish and Irish. Local organizations like the Capuchins were pivotal in bridging the hunger gap helping to provide food to the community.

Who Were the Capuchins?

The Capuchins, who still exist today, are a Christian religious group who are inspired by St. Francis of Assisi and dedicate their work to supporting those experiencing poverty. Capuchins in Detroit branched off from the Capuchin Order in Switzerland and established themselves in Detroit in 1883 as spiritual advisors among the community.  The friars built their monastery on Mt. Elliot and did their religious service from there.  In 1911, it had accepted the mission that served African American families migrating north. In 1926, the Province also helped people being displaced by homesteading. Their work engaging and serving the community officially expanded in 1929 when Capuchin friars Solanus Casey and Herman Buss led the establishment of the Capuchin Soup Kitchen. 

Capuchin Soup Kitchen 

The American Great Depression lasted from 1929 to 1941 and reached its lowest point in 1933.  During this time, the Capuchins began to receive knocks on their doors from hungry Detroiters looking for help, and the Capuchins, first fed those who asked and eventually started a full soup kitchen.  The Capuchin Soup Kitchen was known to serve daily lines of 2,000 hungry people. The friars collected food from farms, made soup, baked bread and served meals in the hall next to the monastery. From these beginnings grew the Capuchin Soup Kitchen of today. 

Detroit Capuchins Today

The Capuchin Soup Kitchen now has multiple locations around the city of Detroit, offering services such as a food and clothing bank, drug rehabilitation and business opportunities for those in recovery, as well as youth programs.  Meals are still provided by the Capuchins, and the food for them is sourced from their Earthworks Urban Farm.


  1. How would you describe the civic engagement of the Capuchins in Detroit?
  2. What, if any, responsibility should the city have had for the services they provided?
  3. Do you think food is still an important civic engagement issue today? Why or why not?