For women and children fleeing domestic abuse, having a shelter like Osborne House to escape to is a welcome sanctuary. Now, this difficult experience will be made easier with the gift of hot soup, prepared and packaged by a philanthropic initiative coming to Winnipeg in March.
Soup Sisters is national effort launched four years ago in Calgary that organizes soup making events to provide hundreds of litres of soup to women’s shelters and programs for youth in crisis in several cities across Canada.
The three local women who are bringing Soup Sisters to Winnipeg are Miriam Bronstein, Sandi Malamud and Harriet Zimmer.
In advance of launching their first soup making event on March 10, 2013, Community News Commons (CNC) caught up with the three organizers to find out more about Soup Sisters and what motivated them to bring this charitable effort to Winnipeg.
CNC: How did you first become aware of Soup Sisters?
Miriam Bronstein: About a year ago, February, I was in Ottawa, and I happened to attend an event with my daughter who is a 30-year-old Ottawa resident. The Young Women’s division of The Jewish Federation was doing tikun olam (healing the world) and as part of this they were doing a Soup Sisters event.
We went to this fabulous kitchen, the people from the shelter came and spoke, and told this beautiful story about a child who noticed the label on the soup which reads, ‘Made With Love by Soup Sisters’ and then it says the ingredients. Apparently, this little kid in one of the shelters looked at this and said, “Hey mommy this soup was made with love.”
So I was at this Soup Sisters event in Ottawa where the chef sits you down and makes his soup for you, and while the soups you’ve prepared for the shelter are cooking, you have soup and bread and have a nice visit. Then you package the soup and it’s sent off the next day. It’s an event from 5:30 to 8:30 and the women were just so connected and so enjoying the event that they wouldn’t go home.
At that moment I was on the brink of retiring, I taught music and drama at the Gray Academy for many years. And I said when I retire I’m starting this in Winnipeg. It was just too amazing. It was such a blast. And it was a year later before we began. Sandi (Malamud) worked in the same school and she retired a year before me, and when I talked it up she said, ‘Oh yeah, count me in.’
We talked about it with lots of people. In the end the three of us got together. Harriet (Zimmer) had her own way of hearing about it too, being a good friend of the person who started it in Ottawa. But in the end after talking, the three of us were the ones committed to the program. If I do say so, I think we complement each other really nicely, in terms of making it happen. We all have our strengths and we’ve been having a really nice time.
CNC: So what did you do to get Soup Sisters going here in Winnipeg?
Harriet Zimmer: We contacted Sharon Hapton who started Soup Sisters in Calgary. Her story is that she was having a 50th birthday party and she decided instead of having a frivolous lunch with girlfriends which was something she didn’t need, she decided to give back. And that’s how Soup Sisters began in 2009.
And we feel the same way as Sharon and we want to have that same compassion to give back to the community of Winnipeg and we connected with Osborne House. They’re going to be our recipients of soup, 250 bowls of soup once a month.
Our kitchen is going to be the Fairmont Hotel kitchen. They’re partnering with us also. The chef there, Jeremy Langemann, he is incredibly easy to work with, and on board totally. The Fairmont is really excited about this venture.
CNC: When is the launch?
Harriet Zimmer: Sunday, March 10, 2013 at 5:30 p.m. at the Fairmont Hotel.
CNC: Why do you think it’s important to bring Soup Sisters to Winnipeg?
Harriet Zimmer: We are all retired educators —
CNC: So you understand the importance of having nourishing food.
Harriet Zimmer: Yes, and it has been a great success and filled a need in other cities. We want that for Winnipeg too. Soup that is so nurturing and warm. We feel that these women can take this soup because it’s packaged in one litre containers, and they’re also able to take it to work if they’re working while living in the shelter. We provide them with a freezer — we’ve had a freezer donated to Osborne House — that will contain all these soups for the full month. There will be five different kinds of soup each month.
Miriam Bronstein: Depending upon what the shelter wants that’s how we’ll package the soups. Some may want the individual containers, we also have the one litre take away containers. We’re also getting very large containers where you can put the entire soup in one container, if that’s how the shelter wants to receive it. So, they could, I imagine serve it one night for a meal. So, it will depend on the recipient how we send the soup.
CNC: What kinds of soup will you be making?
Harriet Zimmer: There’s a huge variety. Soup Sisters has a cookbook out. So there could be anything from a hamburger soup to a minestrone soup, a beef and barley, mushroom and more. Everything is halal – there’s no pork in the soups and there is a large variety. Every time we make five different kinds.
CNC: So how will this unfold throughout the year?
Harriet Zimmer: We are having a media and invited guests launch on Sunday, March 10. And after that we’ll be booking 20 to 30 people to come out once a month to make soup for the shelter. People can book events and will pay fifty dollars to come. That fifty dollars will go to buying all the vegetables and other ingredients needed to make the soups for Osborne House, as well as to pay for the meal the participant eats while waiting for the soups to cook. The meal includes soup, salad, bread and wine.
CNC: Can one book this online?
Harriet Zimmer: It will be set up online so that people can book an event. The notice will be going out to different companies, we’ll meet with their public relations people, and see if they would like to book an event and give back to the community by making soup. To this point, it’s been word of mouth and we know that a lot of people are very excited about it.
CNC: In how many Canadian cities are there Soup Sisters events?
Miriam Bronstein: Soup Sisters is in ten Canadian cities. And three more are coming up within the next three months. I believe the three new ones are Montreal, Halifax and Winnipeg.
CNC: What is the motivation for each of you?
Sandi Malamud: I want to spend some of my free time helping others. I want to give back to my community and help others in need. From my experience working with children I know how important a nourishing meal is to their ability to learn and to their well being. So often in our city children don’t get the nourishing meals they need to concentrate in the classroom. We will provide this nourishment in the form of soup to Osborne House and they will share it with the people in the shelter. When people leave the shelter they can take the soup with them.
Miriam Bronstein: Often in my volunteer life I ask people for money. And this just seemed like such a different way of giving back. And people are so excited about this venture. Usually when you phone people and ask them for money, they write you a cheque but they’re not that excited. There is just something so exciting about how people are responding to this.
Harriet Zimmer: Working with the shelter and raising awareness about domestic abuse in Winnipeg is really a key issue for all of us, too. Having soup and having a warm meal, reducing the cost to Osborne House are all areas we want to support. We just see that there’s a niche for it in Winnipeg.
Miriam Bronstein: Sharon Hapton, the woman from Calgary who started Soup Sisters there, said that when you make the phone call to the shelter, it’s like they’ve won the lottery. And it’s kind of like that, the letter we got back from Osborne House was just so exciting, they just couldn’t believe it. We’re giving them a freezer and we’re guaranteeing that it’s going to be kept full. It’s a wonderful way of donating time and energy.
Harriet Zimmer: And a representative from Osborne House will be at every event, always reminding the participants what the purpose is of making the soup. It’s so important for everyone to learn about Osborne House.
CNC: It sounds like Winnipeg is a good city for this to take root in.
Harriet Zimmer: We think so, too. The woman who started it in Calgary about 4 years ago has been so successful, there are chapters all across Canada. It has really grown in Calgary and we think it will be as successful in Winnipeg.
You can obtain more information online at http://www.soupsisters.org/winnipeg.php
This month, CNC is taking a closer look at compassion in our city. In addition to hosting a Town Hall Forum on the subject at the Winnipeg Free Press Cafe on January 23 at 7:00 pm, we’re also encouraging CNC reporters to write about compassion.