October 20, 2021

Building relationships

Stone soup in Cortland aims to strengthen community

Shenandoah Briere/contributing photographer

Cortland City Community Policing Officer Jesse Abbott points out where tables will be lined up down Court Street on June 2 for a community soup event.

Stone soup is a folklore tale of a community coming together to help a man make soup by each adding something to the pot. It’s a story of sharing and community building. It’s also the inspiration of an event coming in June to Cortland.

“This theory is a way, again, to build relationships in the community and get everybody together,” city Police Officer Jesse Abbott, said last week.

The City Common Council voted Tuesday, 6-0, to close Court Street — where the event would take place June 2 — grant a sound permit and waive fees associated with the event.

Abbott, the city’s community policing officer, and several people representing LGBTQ people, people with disabilities another other groups came up with an event so people could get to know each other.

The need for such an event stems from an incident involving Melissa Kiser and her 2-year-old son.

Kiser said her son was at a library when police were called over him throwing a fit. Kiser, who is of African decent, said there was a hint of racism involved in the incident.

“There really is not a lot of representation for minorities on any real level of government,” Kiser said. “There is not that sense of community. There’s a lot of division. There’s a lot of segregation.”

She noted that it took her son a while and some time spent with Abbott and police officers at SUNY Cortland to recover from the incident.

“It’s important that the police department host events like this to build relationships — new relationships and strengthen relationships,” Abbott said.

At first, he thought of hosting a community picnic, but Tammy Timmerman with the Cortland County Restaurant and Tavern Association had another idea — stone soup.

It’s an idea that came from her friend, who is the president of a downtown business association in Elkins, West Virginia.

Timmerman said her friend had the event in January and it was 10 below zero and 300 people still showed up. “It really is a good community builder,” she said Friday.

A strip of tables would line Court Street. On the sides of the street would be tables full of soup from various restaurants.

“One of the benefits of this event is you’re bringing a diverse group of people together on one street just to mingle,” Timmerman said.

The next step in the process, she said, is to get restaurants involved.

“I’d like to get 10 to 15 restaurants to participate,” Timmerman said. She’s also hoping some bakeries would donate bread.

So far she’s received word from the Downtown Deli that it will participate.

“We’re 100 percent on board,” manager Fharrica Westendorf said. “We think that it’s a great way to involve the community and get people downtown, who might not come downtown otherwise.”

While Timmerman is chasing down the food portion of the event, others are working on decorations and a movie in Courthouse Park that will play after the soup.

However, the most important part of the event is that people who wouldn’t normally talk to each other or see each other come together in one spot, Kiser said.

“We simply envision an event and an opportunity where we can all walk in as strangers, but leave as friends,” she said. “We want our community to be a place where everyone is welcomed, safe and celebrated.”