10/15/2012 12:04 EDT | Updated 12/15/2012 05:12 EST

Soup's on! Soup Sisters concocts care in a bowl to benefit at-risk women

TORONTO - Sharon Hapton has continued her need to nourish and nurture by concocting a new cookbook for an organization that stirs up care in a bowl for women in need.

Hapton founded Soup Sisters, a Calgary-based non-profit enterprise, in 2009 with the goal of making a difference to the lives of women and children who have left abusive relationships. People in communities across the country now come together through local events to cook, share and donate soup to women's shelters.

The recipes in her new book, "The Soup Sisters Cookbook: 100 Simple Recipes to Warm Hearts ... One Bowl at a Time" (Appetite by Random House), co-edited by Pierre Lamielle, come from "souper volunteers" as well as celebrity chefs like Michael Stadtlander, Lucy Waverman, Massimo Capra, Anna Olson, Michael Bonacini and Elizabeth Baird.

"One thing that chefs understand is taking care of people through food," Hapton said in a telephone interview from Calgary just after the recent launch of the book.

Approaching a milestone birthday with her two children gone to university and realizing she'd always enjoyed making soup and delivering it to people, she decided to celebrate by preparing soup with her friends for a women's shelter. She'd been at a fundraiser about a year prior to her 50th birthday and "I was profoundly moved, devastated almost, by the fact that women flee with nothing."

Her birthday event inspired her to spend the next year designing a prototype for the Soup Sisters organization.

"When I came up with the idea for Soup Sisters it wasn't about feeding the hungry per se. It was a concept to nurture and nourish and that to me was just a societal issue that required that kind of care in a bowl," she explained. "It was such a direct way to let women know that we stand with them and against domestic abuse, and for the kids we support it's the very thing they're lacking in their lives is nurture.

"It's a way for people to come together and do something that is so hands-on. With that bowl of soup comes a gigantic message and it's really being received that way."

The volunteer-run charitable organization has now expanded to 20 women's and youth shelters in 10 cities across Canada. Bookings for soup-making events extend into next year.

"In Calgary alone we run four events a month and we're going to start a fifth. ... It really provides such a means of giving tangibly to come to our events and it's hands-on and people love it. And the events are a lot of fun."

At each event there is a speaker from the shelter being supported, "which is a little bit of a sombre start because it's a reality check with this being a very prevalent issue in society. We make sure people know up front what they're doing there. ...

"And then the chopping begins and it just takes on such a great feeling, every event. By the end of the night we're ladling hundreds of bowls of soup and it's very powerful."

The event, usually about three hours long, wraps up with participants enjoying a simple meal of soup, salad and bread along with a glass of wine.

Participants pay $50, of which about 95 per cent goes to the culinary partner, such as a cooking school, which provides the facility, ingredients, meal and wine.

The events, which she says are equally split between women and men (who are called Broth Brothers), attract all sorts, from book clubs and couples to wedding showers and volunteers involved in corporate team-building projects.

Hapton, 53, has compiled a guidebook for those who want to start up a chapter in their community and she works with them until they're able to carry out a fundraiser launch.

Attendees at launches typically pay $95 to help buy the shelter a freezer, a supply of glass bowls and plastic containers that are microwave- and freezer-safe for to-go soup for women who might be leaving the shelter or for counsellors to tote to outreach clients. Empty glass bowls are picked up each month from the shelter and refilled at the next event.

"The Soup Sisters Cookbook" includes 100 recipes arranged by season, starting with fall when thoughts turn to hearty and nourishing fare. Many of the recipes are used every month for the shelters.

Chef Pierre Lamielle, also an illustrator, formatted and streamlined the recipes for consistency. He included a section explaining techniques common to most soups, such as stocking a pantry, prepping various types of vegetables, making stock from scratch and using a blender or immersion blender for pureeing.

Hapton, who has always done the marketing in the optical business she and her husband own, says she often is asked if she established Soup Sisters because she's been in an abusive relationship and says this couldn't be further from the truth. Her husband of 30 years, Garry, is extremely supportive of her initiative despite being put on the back burner as Hapton works "harder than I've ever worked in my life" on what has become a second career.

"The more I see the result, the harder I work."