Jean Hornsby was beginning to question the practicality of maintaining her moniker as the "soup lady" of the Creekside Woods apartment complex in Wilsonville.
For Hornsby, living off Social Security amid rising rents was hard enough. On top of that, she was paying for the ingredients required to cook soup for as many as 40 people a week.
Hornsby is a regular attendee of the local Pioneer Baptist Church and waited for a sign from God to inform her decision about whether to keep the pot simmering.
Four days passed without a sign.
Invoking the Bible, Hornsby described what happened next: "On the fifth day I was going out of my door and two carrots were laid there. The next day there was like three potatoes. The next day was something else. And the next day it was something else."
Hornsby said she had no idea who left the ingredients. But the message was clear: She would rinse off the fresh produce and begin concocting her next pot.
"I will never know who left carrots or three potatoes," Hornsby said. "It was enough of a meaning … 'Jeanie, keep on doing it as long as you can.'"
Hornsby and her husband James Henry Morris moved to Wilsonville from Williamsburg, Virginia in 2012 and the two live in separate one bedroom apartments on the same floor of the Creekside apartments for seniors.
Back in Virginia, Hornsby lived in a 13-person household. To feed the family, they used to cook large batches of soup.
After settling into Creekside, Hornsby delivered soup as a gift to friends in the apartment complex and to meet new people. Then, people began referring her to a sick friend or fellow soup lover.
"It started with five or six people and now it's this building and that building and every single floor," Hornsby said.
To this day, she prioritizes those who are sick or new to the building but cooks soup for as many people as she can.
"If she moved (away) most of these people around here wouldn't know what to do. Everybody loves her soup and loves the fact that she does it. She's a very caring person," Creekside Apartments resident Maggie Fenske said.
Hornsby cooks different kinds of soup depending on the ingredients at her disposal and the recipients. The soup that simmered in her kitchen last week included basil, squash, zucchini, broccoli, cauliflower, spinach, string beans, carrots and sage sausage. She also uses chicken or beef broth and considers Trader Joe's 21 seasoning spice blend to be her key ingredient.
"It's (the soup) always yummy especially when it's warm right out of the pot," Creekside resident Patti Warren said. "It keeps us all going."
After Creekside's annual Thanksgiving festivities, Hornsby turned mashed potatoes, stuffing, turkey and other leftovers into a soup.
"It tasted really good," Fenske said.
Despite regularly feeling pain in her legs, Hornsby delivers the soups to residents' doors. And when recipients finish devouring their helping, they drop bowls off in the same room that Hornsby and her friends complete puzzles.
"My grandma always taught me that if you don't return the empty container they can't fill it up again so I always make a point of giving it back to her," Creekside manager Brian Cass said.
Since Creekside resident Joanne O'Neil contracted gout that has affected her heart, the hospital has become her second home.
But every day she's home for dinner, she can feel comforted by Hornsby's bowl of soup. Whenever she can, O'Neil returns the favor, buying Hornsby cookies or Trader Joe's seasoning.
"She's so sweet and generous with herself all the time to everybody. She's just a wonderful friend," O'Neil said. "And she considers everyone in the place her big family so she takes care of them. If someone's sick she doesn't hesitate. Even if she hasn't met them yet she'll take a bowl of soup for them."
Hornsby's generosity came back around again last week when resident Ruth Didier cooked her up a batch of tuna casserole.
"She likes to share and I like to share," Didier said. "It's just a good feeling. It makes everyone happy."
On top of the soup, Hornsby makes fruit smoothies for residents and staff, including Cass. The smoothies often include six kinds of fruit and vary depending on the day. Along with a nice morning pick-me-up, Cass said Hornsby's efforts can boost morale and social interaction in Creekside. Hornsby reiterated that point, saying that once silent strolls through the hallways have blossomed into a string of social greetings.
"A lot of times in senior buildings people move in and they become very isolated, very off to themselves and it's not through not wanting to meet people. They just don't know how to do it," Cass said. "So here's a thing of soup or a smoothie. It sometimes breaks down those walls and makes it so people are a little bit more outgoing."
The sign that kept Hornsby cooking arrived over a year ago yet she still regularly receives ingredients at her doorstep. She's grateful for the donations and doesn't plan to stop returning the favor anytime soon.
'I feel like because I don't have the financial means I had in Virginia, I feel like I'm giving back to the Lord but in a different way, with my hands as long as I can," she said.
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