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'It's about having comfort and that's what it provides': National charity that began in Calgary providing hugs-in-a-bowl for less fortunate

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Soup Sisters is nearing 15 years in operation and in that time more than 100,000 volunteers have provided 4,000,000 nutritious bowls of soup for people in need.

The non-profit was founded in 2009 by Sharon Hapton who's also the agency's CEO.

"What I understand is that everything starts with nutrition so we can't do better, we can't be well until we've had nutritious food," said Hapton. "We started with a mandate, as any charity would, for emergency shelters for women and children and youth, (and) what I really recognized is the need was so universal so we've really expanded our recipients and we give to so many different kinds of agencies."

Hapton says today's economy has created more of a demand for Soup Sisters.

"What we're finding is we have more and more agencies on board taking our soup," she said. "Because they're feeding so many people and (our model is) very efficient, it's efficient in the way we produce it and give it."

The organization uses Sunterra Market's kitchen space to make the soup under the supervision of chef Ashwini Kumar. He says it's a lot of work to coordinate tasks for volunteers to make all the soup needed.

"We have a very specific recipes that we follow," said Kumar. "Because these recipes have been designed to be wholesome, with a lot of nutritional value and they are filling, so when someone is receiving the soup, they in turn will have a very nutritious meal."

Kumar hasn't handed out any of the soup to people in need, but he did have someone in one of his volunteer soup making events who benefited from the agency.

"So at some point of time in his life he was on the receiving end," said Kumar. "Then he had an opportunity to be part of the Soup Sisters and give it back and it was a full circle."

IMPACT OF GOOD SOUP

Floyd Visser is the executive director for The Doorway, an agency that helps 17 to 30 year olds make the transition from living on the streets to rejoining society.

"The participants know the difference between a canned soup, a packaged soup and then the soup that they're receiving from the Soup Sisters," he said.

Visser has seen the impact of what a simple bowl of nutritious soup does for his clients.

"It's about having comfort, and that's what it provides," he said. "As the participant feels more comfortable, they're interacting in a way that maybe isn't possible if the soup wasn't there because they're hungry or they're thinking about food."

Kristyn Drever has volunteered in the kitchen for eight years with Soup Sisters and says there is a camaraderie when people of like mind join forces to give back to the community.

"It's really amazing, you can feel the vibration of people fully invested in heart, mind and soul, just really eager to give back," she said. "If you can hold a knife and keep your fingers out of the way, you can make soup, it's a very simple process, it's just takes fresh ingredients and love and a bit of time."

Drever volunteered to give soup out to people at one of Calgary's warming stations last winter. She was struck by the impact warm food had on the people in need.

"The transformation in people is tangible, visible," she said. "People go from almost nonverbal and after a second or third bowl of soup they become full of life and they're chatty and they're standing straight up and smiles on their faces, light in their eyes, it's incredibly rewarding."

Hapton is proud of what Soup Sisters has become and knows there will always be someone who needs, what she calls 'a hug in a bowl'.

"It's a very caring gift and people know it," she said. "They know it when they're on the receiving end, that this soup was made, not just with love, but intention."

Learn more about the agency here: soupsisters.org

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