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Providing a hug in a bowl to those in crisis

By Alison Larabie Chase on November 25, 2015


There’s something so soothing about a home cooked meal. Homemade food has power far beyond its mere ingredients. Imagine for a moment that you have no home; no safe space in which to cook so much as a grilled cheese sandwich for yourself or your children. What would a home-cooked meal mean to you then?

Soup Sisters/Broth Brothers calls what it does a “hug in a bowl.” This charitable venture began in 2009 in Calgary, the brainchild of Sharon Hapton. As part of her own 50th birthday celebrations, Hapton turned a simple idea – providing the healing powers of a homemade bowl of soup to women and children in crisis – into a focused initiative with clear, local, transformative results. The first Soup Sisters event was held at Hapton’s birthday party. Since 2009, the project has grown and chapters have popped up all over Canada and as far away as Los Angeles. More than 30 shelters now benefit from the work of volunteers who come together to transform their time, money and effort, along with wholesome ingredients, into delicious homemade soup.

Lynne Oreck-Wener, a close friend of Sharon Hapton’s who attended that first party, started Ottawa’s first Soup Sisters/Broth Brothers chapter in 2010. That chapter provides soup to Interval House women’s shelter and Oshki Kizis Lodge. It has now outgrown its original home, the Urban Element cooking school on Parkdale Avenue, and will be moving soon to an as-yet-undetermined location.

That chapter’s events started selling out, and in 2013 a second Ottawa chapter started, housed at Grounded Kitchen and Coffeehouse on Gloucester Street in Centretown. Its founder and current communications coordinator, Mary Clare Carter, attended a Soup Sisters event at the Urban Element and fell in love with the concept.

“All the stars aligned,” says Carter of her involvement in the start of the new chapter. “When my Dad turned 80, we booked a Soup Sisters Event as a family. Sharon Hapton was doing a cross-country tour and happened to be at our event. I had been looking for a way to give back to the community. I asked Sharon a bunch of questions, she was interested in having a second chapter in Ottawa… it was good timing.”

Carter calls Soup Sisters a self-fulfilling business model. The $55 participation fee paid by all participants covers ingredients, venue rental, chef/facilitator time, equipment and supervision. At the end of the evening, participants sit down together to a meal of soup, salad, bread and wine.

The soups made at Grounded’s events go to the Ottawa Youth Services Bureau’s shelters for young men and women. They provide warm, nourishing meals for youth living in the emergency shelters (for communal meals) and the transitional housing apartments (for those times when someone not used to budgeting might not make it through the month with money left over for food). The soups made by Soup Sisters are hearty, full of meat or other protein-rich alternatives, and can serve as a full meal on their own.

Both chapters hold monthly soup-making events – Urban Element’s is on Sunday evenings, while Grounded hosts on Monday nights. Each event produces approximately 200 servings of soup for its shelters. However, getting involved requires some advance planning, as the events are limited to 30 people and often sell out up to a year in advance.

Why are these events so popular? “It’s not about fundraising. It’s a lovely night out, with family or friends or even coworkers. It can be a time to talk about issues and figure out what we can do. It’s the best volunteer thing I’ve ever done in my life,” Carter says.

To see upcoming dates and learn more, visit the Ottawa Urban Element or Ottawa Grounded Kitchen chapter pages.