THE BLOG

The Woman Serving up Soup For a Good Cause

10/02/2012 08:13 EDT | Updated 12/01/2012 05:12 EST
Olga Berman

What is it about soup that makes it our go-to weapon to soothe anything from an aching body to an ailing heart? It may not always cure, but there's something about its old-fashioned, comforting powers that sure seems to help.

Making soup for a friend or family who's hurting is hard-wired into Sharon Hapton's DNA. She's been doing it for her loved ones for most of her adult life believing in her heart that a bowl of comforting, homemade soup has the potential to change a person's day. When she turned 50 and her kids had flown the family nest, she experienced what she calls "a giant nurture void" and ruminated about how the power of soup might be applied to a broader mission; to comfort women and children suffering from the trauma of family violence and abuse. Such were the seeds of Soup Sisters, now a thriving social enterprise with volunteer operations in 10 cities (and growing) across Canada.

On any given Sunday, women and men across the country gather together in professional kitchens under the guidance of professional chefs and produce litres and litres of nourishing, nurturing soups for Monday morning delivery to their local women's shelters. Nationally, Soup Sisters' events now churn out approximately 8,000 bowls of soup a month for 25 women's emergency shelters and youth-at-risk centres from Ottawa to Vancouver Island.

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Little did Sharon know that the power of soup would extend far beyond the comfort contained in each delicious bowl. Soup Sisters amplified the conversation about domestic violence and brought it to the attention of thousands in the communities in which it operates. According to Lisa Falkowsky, Executive Director of the Calgary Women's Emergency Shelter (Soup Sisters' very first soup recipient), "Our organization now has the unique opportunity to create a dialogue with thousands of new people to raise awareness about family violence." And, of course, the soup has brought comfort to the women and children in the shelter, "...the knowledge that this soup is made specifically for them by fellow Calgarians supports women and children as they begin their new lives free of abuse."

Women who flee abusive relationships often leave their homes with just the clothes on their backs. Suddenly deprived of their home environment, riddled with stress and fear and drained of energy, many struggle just to eat, sleep and hold down their jobs. One such shelter resident and soup recipient in Kelowna recently shared, "I just moved into the Kelowna Women's Shelter two days ago. I work full-time and it's been a real challenge trying to make it to work and deal with the chaos in my life, and with the huge depression that lingers relentlessly night and day and keeps me from sleeping. I just wanted to say how nice it was to be able to take a bowl of comforting minestrone soup to work -- one less thing to worry about...please accept my humble thanks for your love, generosity and kindness when I truly need and appreciate it most."

Such testimonials fuel volunteer participation and motivation and draw the power of soup back to the individuals who are chopping, sautéing and stirring this potent brew. According to Jennifer Schell, a food writer and Soup Sisters Kelowna volunteer coordinator, "It is thrilling and rewarding to see the effect the soup making session has on each new group -- they all leave aglow. Never has a charity resonated with so many and embodied such a completely satisfying, spirit-filling experience."

(See Jennifer's favorite soup recipe, Okanagan Apple, Sage & Celeriac Soup from the recently published Soup Sisters Cookbook.)

With over 75,000 bowls of soup delivered to date and many more on the stove to come, the full power of Soup Sisters is yet to be realized. As long as there are abusers in our midst, shelters in our cities and women and their children struggling to rebuild their lives, there will continue to be more than enough need to keep Soup Sisters stirring the pot.

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