Recently members of the Calgary Stampeders of the Canadian Football League and their wives and girlfriends spent an evening making soup.
Sharon Hapton, who believed that people suffering from two prevalent issues in society — domestic abuse and youth homelessness — would benefit from the care and warmth that comes in a bowl of soup, conceived the idea for the Soup Sisters organization in 2009 and has seen it mushroom to support more than 25 shelters across the country.
Each month across the country there are about 30 soup-making events. Each participant pays $55 to join the event at a local professional kitchen, such as in a cooking school or restaurant, and the group works together to produce 150 to 200 servings of soup that are delivered fresh to a local shelter. Events are social evenings that culminate in a simple, sit-down supper of soup, salad, bread and wine for all participants.
Three Stampeders team members — Keon Raymond, Randy Chevrier and Anthony Parker — also went through three days of intensive training in gender-based violence prevention with the Alberta Council of Women's Shelters. The program, which launched in September, is called Leading Change: The Alberta CFL Project, with the goal of stopping domestic violence and abuse against women.
"What was so fantastic about that was that these are the most wonderful young athletes who are standing up against domestic abuse because there's been so many horrible things with (Ray) Rice in the (United) States and all of that," Hapton said while in Toronto to promote the new cookbook, "The Soup Sisters and Broth Brothers Cookbook: More Than 100 Heart-Warming Seasonal Recipes for You to Cook at Home" (Appetite by Random House).
"They're going into schools and they're role modelling not only within their own families but for the community, so they're talking to kids at an early age about what a healthy relationship looks like."
Hapton spoke fresh off the launch of Soup Sisters the evening before in a 20th Canadian city — Guelph, Ont., with support going to Guelph-Wellington Women in Crisis. In May, Soup Sisters branched out to the U.S., with the launch in Los Angeles making 21 cities.
When the Calgary-based Hapton started the non-profit, she called it Soup Sisters and geared it to women, and later expanded it to include Broth Brothers for men to make soup for youth 16 to 24 transitioning from street culture into mainstream society.
"I wrongly at the time thought that men wouldn't come to events that had to do with domestic abuse," she said. "I was really wrong about that. What I realized is that men are very eager to support, take a stand against domestic abuse. So it's been a really interesting journey that way. Now really if you're a woman you're a Soup Sister, if you're a guy you're a Broth Brother. ... Now most of our events are split 50-50 men and women in such a safe place for men to contribute to this cause, in the kitchen of all things. It's fantastic really. It's so important."
In the second cookbook edited by Hapton, a followup to 2012's bestseller, recipes have been provided by well-known chefs and cookbook authors such as Curtis Stone, Michael Smith, Ricardo Larrivee, Lynn Crawford, Rose Murray, Elizabeth Baird, Christine Cushing, Michael Stadtlander, Mark McEwan, Rose Reisman, Lidia Bastianich, Susur Lee, Vikram Vij and Yotam Ottolenghi, along with volunteers and family members.
Pierre Lamielle, a fellow Calgarian who competed in season 4 of "Top Chef Canada" and "Chopped Canada," did the illustrations.
Easy-to-follow recipes have been grouped by the seasons and include gluten-free, vegan and vegetarian selections.
"In the first book we heard about how the shelters felt about receiving soup. In this book we hear about what it means to the volunteers," Hapton said. There are numerous photographs shot at various soup-making events.
She frequently hears back from appreciative youth who have enjoyed the soup, with comments such as "just like Grandma's," but with women's shelters "there's a lot of anonymity. There's a lot of shame that goes with domestic abuse. We hear back from counsellors at shelters an awful lot about how important the soup is to women at that time in their lives when they think nobody cares about them."
Because the soup-making events are viewed as great team builders, Hapton said there are a lot of corporate bookings along with book clubs, groups celebrating birthdays or other occasions, mother-and-daughter or father-and-son nights and bridal parties who choose this instead of having a shower. In fact, the events are so popular, online bookings are being made well into next year.
Hapton is often asked where the soup can be purchased, so she's now considering ways to market the soup with proceeds going back to the organization. "I'm really thinking sustainability of the non-profit so it's almost the creation of a for-profit arm that feeds the non-profit. ...
"What we've done here is we've brought community people together to make soup for women, children and youth and now I think we can provide that to the community."
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