Text and Photos by Sarah E. Murphy
While Stephen Bird was busy last week preparing his signature soup and clam chowder for the Cape Cod Marathon, he had no idea how much those efforts would be appreciated, not just by the running community, but the town of Falmouth in general.
After a one-year hiatus in 2020 due to Covid-19, this year’s staging of the Mayflower Wind Cape Cod Marathon, Relay, and Half was highly anticipated, by runners and organizers. Slated for Halloween weekend, the event notoriously coincides with the region’s stormy autumn weather, so while a late October Nor’easter was not necessarily unexpected, it was definitely unwelcome. Cape Cod awoke to widespread power outages and extensive storm damage in the early morning hours of Wednesday, October 27, and the following day, the race committee was forced to make the difficult decision to cancel.
The next item on the agenda: deciding what to do with 200 gallons of soup and chowder.
As production chef for The Quarterdeck and the Pilot House in Falmouth and Sandwich respectively, Steve Bird is well-known for his clam chowder and hearty soups, which he has prepared for the past few years for the post-race celebration. The event is often held under a tent in a torrential downpour, so the menu is by design.
“Providing a hot, nutritious meal to runners after they cross the finish line is one of the things the Cape Cod Marathon is known for, and it’s a tradition not all races do anymore,” Steve said. “It’s something people appreciate, especially when it’s freezing cold and raining during race weekend.”
Therefore, as the forecast started to turn bleak for October 30 and 31, Steve forged ahead undeterred, prepping the base for the coveted chowder, in addition to turkey and wild rice soup, and gluten-free minestrone, for those with dietary restrictions.
Although power would eventually be restored for much of Falmouth by race day, the storm’s impact proved to be too much, particularly in terms of flooding and downed trees and power lines along the course. The Falmouth Running Club, which produces the event, met with Falmouth Police Department on Thursday morning and, shortly after, race director Jack Afarian made the call to cancel.
“My first priority is the safety of the runners, volunteers, and spectators, and if I don’t feel like I can conduct a safe race, we’re not going to do it. And the police agreed,” he said. “We put our heads together and decided to give the soup away, and then we talked about the best way to do that.”
After race organizers weighed Gus Canty Community Center as an option, they contacted Falmouth Recreation Director Joe Olenick, who gave them permission to set up on the sidewalk in front of the building, centrally located on Main Street, next to Falmouth Police Department and Falmouth Senior Center.
At the suggestion of Falmouth resident Art Gaylord, Steve Bird contacted his neighbor and family friend, Samantha Bauer, founder and director of Falmouth nonprofit Inspiration is Everywhere, who was already doing her part. Once she determined Kenyon’s Market in East Falmouth was already distributing free coffee for line workers, she began requesting donations through PayPal and Venmo for Gatorade and electrolyte waters, which she delivered to the EverSource staging area in front of Wal-Mart. Shaw’s Supermarket also donated to her effort. After reading a Facebook post by the wife of a line worker who couldn’t obtain bottled water while out on his route, she purchased reusable travel mugs at Dollar Tree, which she filled with water supplied by Cape Cod Marathon, and also delivered.
Social media blasts were shared on Thursday to announce the makeshift soup kitchen at Gus Canty, informing people to come equipped with their own containers with lids, and Steve Bird, with help from his wife, Jennifer Gilbert, and other volunteers, began transporting his equipment, along with countless buckets of soup and chowder base.
Cars began filling the parking lot shortly after their start time of 3 pm, with volunteers from Falmouth Running Club, Falmouth Road Race, Inspiration is Everywhere, and title sponsor Mayflower Wind serving up Steve’s creations, along with apples, bananas, and snacks, donated for runners by Shaw’s, in addition to gallons of drinking water. Hot breakfast sandwiches were sent over by the Falmouth Inn, located next to Gus Canty.
The Marathon soup kitchen set up in the same spot again on Friday, when many people were gratefully returning home to restored power, after about 56 hours without.
Food sponsor donations included ingredients for the chowder and soups from Reinhart Foodservice; Ring Brothers Produce; dairy from Paul W. Marks; turkeys from William and Company; and clams from St. Ours.
For Jack Afarian, it was a positive outcome to an unfortunate situation.
“It feels pretty lousy to disappoint 4,000 runners, but that’s the second worst thing that can happen to a race director. The worst is to have an unsafe event where someone is injured, or worse,” he said. “We’re putting everything toward a good cause, so there’s a silver lining here. Maybe there was a reason the race was canceled.”
Filling in gaps of need in the community is the core mission of Inspiration is Everywhere, from providing essentials like clothing and toiletries to aiding individuals by connecting them to resources, to providing general assistance, such as free internet access. The office on Spring Bars Road boasts a meeting space available for hosting alcohol and drug-free events, in an effort to combat substance use disorder among young people as a result of boredom and experimentation.
Samantha Bauer eagerly answered Steve’s call seeking help with the townwide effort at Gus Canty.
“I’m happy for any chance to show my community that other people care about them, whether they’re in a state of crisis or not,” she said.
Giving back to those less fortunate was instilled in Samantha by her mother and grandmother, and it’s a lesson she models to her children, Anthony and Isabella, 4 and 5, who were passing out fruit.
“It’s important for my kids to be involved and see they can physically impact people in a positive way, by simply handing someone a banana or a cup of soup,” Samantha said.
She and Steve Bird hope to move forward with a more organized effort for future storms, in which restaurants can participate by donating their food during power outages for Steve to prepare for the public. Samantha has drafted a proposal for the consideration of town officials.
Steve and I had spoken by phone earlier in the week about a very different topic; he took a break from prepping and chopping as the rain pelted down on Cape Cod. I had recently written for my blog his courageous account of surviving childhood sexual abuse, which he confided to me in 2018 but only recently decided to share with the public. One of his goals for telling his story is to underscore the connection between addiction and unresolved trauma, with the hope of showing survivors they’re not alone. After 15 years of attempting to get sober, Steve celebrated his first year free of alcohol, nicotine and drugs back in August, and he believes that finally acknowledging his trauma has been essential to his recovery.
We’ve since shared Steve’s story with local media and beyond, and will continue to do so, in an effort to spread his message far and wide. Since coming forward, Steve has been approached by countless people, acquaintances and strangers, who can relate to his pain, and realize they don’t have to suffer in shameful silence.
Watching his hometown line up for a bowl of hot, homemade soup after two days without power, which he prepared, proved to be a similar reminder.
“No matter how connected we think we are, or how many Facebook friends we have, so many people are lonely and isolated,” he said. “This was a way to keep the Marathon tradition alive while bringing our whole town together.”