The Gangster with a Heart: Al Capone’s Soup Kitchen

Whilst Al Capone is known throughout the world as a notorious gangster, what is less well known is that he started one of the first soup kitchens, in Chicago during the Great Depression.

The kitchen employed only a few people, but swerved over 120,000 meals. In fact, prior to the passage of the Social Security Act, “soup kitchens” like the one Al Capone founded, provided the only meals that some unemployed Americans had.

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During the Great Depression, the soup kitchen was able to provide a place where the homeless and poor could not only get free food but a brief rest from the struggles of surviving on the streets.

While part of the Five Point Gang, Capone was involved in organized criminal activities such as brothels and bootlegging. He was known as Scarface, the co-founder of the Chicago Outfit. After organizing and ordering the Saint Valentine’s Day Massacre in Chicago, the modern Robin Hood (as many liked to call him) became “Public Enemy No. 1.”

Al Capone made a fortune during the prohibition through bootlegging. He had a bit of the Robin Hood mystique by being charitable from some of the money he made running his criminal enterprise.

Being a bootlegger during Prohibition was generally seen as an acceptable occupation by the public, but it’s well-known that Capone used brutal methods, murdering enemies, extorting local businesses, bribing public officials, intimidating witnesses.

Al Capone’s intentions were an effort to clean up his image. “120 000 meals are served by Capone Free Soup Kitchen” the Chicago Tribune headlined on December 1931. Al Capone’s soup kitchen became one of the strangest sight Chicagoans had ever seen.

An army of ragged, starving men assembled three times a day beside a storefront at 935 South State Street, eating because of the generosity of Al Capone, toasting his health, and telling the newspapers that Capone was doing more for the poor than the entire U.S. government. He was even offering some of them jobs.

Capone milked his charitable works for all the favorable publicity they were worth. He came down and walked among the men, the wretched of the earth, offering a handshake, a hearty smile, and words of encouragement from the great Al Capone.

During November and December, Al Capone’s soup kitchen kept regular hours, serving breakfast, lunch and dinner. Thanksgiving Day 1930 was a particular public relations triumph for Capone.

On that day he could boast that he fed more than 5,000 hungry men, women, and children with a hearty beef stew. Besides his charity, Capone was also known for sending expensive flowers to rival gang member’s funerals, and for his generosity to strangers and Italian immigrants.

The kitchen was demolished in the 1950s, but used to be located at the corner of 9th and State Street. The site is now a parking lot.

As for Al Capone, at the age of 33 and after seven years as a crime boss, he was convicted of tax fraud on November 17th 1931 and sentenced to 11 years in prison, which he began serving at Atlanta Penitentiary.

Al Capone

Whilst there Capone was officially diagnosed with syphilis and gonorrhea. He was also suffering from withdrawal symptoms from cocaine addiction, the use of which had perforated his septum.

In August 1934 Capone was transferred to the Infamous Alcatraz in San Francisco, becoming one of the prisons’ earliest inmates.



While serving his sentence in Alcatraz, Capone was diagnosed with syphilis dementia, and as his health deteriorated, he was sent to the low-security Federal Correctional Institution at Terminal Island near Los Angeles to serve the end of his sentence.

He was released from prison in 1939. One year before his death, Capone’s psychiatrist concluded that he had the mentality of a 12-year-old child. He spent his final years at his mansion in Palm Islands, Florida. He had a stroke on January 21st 1947, and the following day had a cardiac arrest, and passed away 3 days later on January 25th at the age of 48.

By Paul Middleton, source: Ghosts, the paranormal, myths and legends

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