CELEBRATION SPOTLIGHT – Sharon Hapton
National Soup It Forward Day is March 3rd and in honor of the day, Celebration Spotlight interviewed Sharon Hapton, founder of Soup Sisters. The growing organization delivers delicious, homemade, and nutritious soups to people in need. We talk about its importance and how anyone can celebrate by making homemade soup for friends and family.
Michele: Thank you for joining me today. First, I want to talk about how your organization came about.
Sharon: Well, it’s kind of a nice little story. It all started back in 2009 on March 3rd. Which it is no mistake that March 3rd is soup it forward day. I was that day celebrating a milestone birthday that I always tell people ended in zero and kind of leave it there. I’m better now. I was celebrating my 50th. And I invited all my girlfriends for a soup-making birthday party at a cooking school here in Calgary, Alberta, where I’m from. And we made soup together that night. We made about 200 liters of soup, and it was donated fresh the very next day to the Calgary Women’s Shelter in support of women and children fleeing family violence and domestic abuse. And it started that day, March 3rd, 2009.
Michele: That’s fantastic, and it’s grown since then, too, hasn’t it?
Sharon: It has. Since that time in 2009, it grew to operating in 27 cities across the country, primarily in Canada and to the U.S. as well. And we became very well known for our hands-on soup-making events that provided what we call Hugs in a Bowl to so many women and children and youth in crisis who never would have maybe otherwise had that same kind of messaging from community people that they mattered and that they cared. It was a very simple and meaningful way to let people know that we were thinking about them.
“We made about 200 liters of soup, and it was donated fresh the very next day to the Calgary Women’s Shelter…” ~ Sharon Hapton, Soup Sisters founder
Michele: And then you decided to create a National Day. How did that idea come about? How did it develop?
Sharon: I feel like, over the years, the organization has involved so many people in this meaningful process. It made sense to create a national day where people could relate to giving so simply and so tangibly. The Soup Sisters has three really amazing cookbooks, and we have so many chefs, world-renowned chefs, who have contributed to the cookbooks. So it also made sense to involve them. They all have big followings and lots of people who really revere them on so many levels. So on March 3rd, many of them participate as well. They’ll make soup, and they’ll Soup It Forward. It’s really growing since we established that day in 2018.
Michele: You also have a Virtual Soup Pot. What is that?
Sharon: The Virtual Soup Pot really came about because of Covid. So, what happened in March of 2020, the world changed, as you know. We were holding cross-country soup-making events and those just stopped—cold stop of people getting together to do this. So the Virtual Soup Pot became our way of continuing to bring people together virtually to make soup. We ask them to make soup at home with a chef that would lead the event with neighbors and friends. And we would continue to take care of Souping It Forward to all the agencies we support across the country. We’ve been doing that since 2020 through now. So what we’ve become is really a soup bank. Each month we’re delivering 5,000 pounds of soup across the country to agencies in need.
And It’s Growing
Michele: You’re located in Calgary, but this has spread all across North America a little bit, hasn’t it?
Sharon: It has. I think it’s just a simple concept that was very formulaic. It resonated with a lot of people. Pre-covid, we had lots and lots of volunteers in Los Angeles, in New Jersey, all over Canada who wanted to be part of this and who brought their communities together to support shelters in their own community. It was a beautiful, beautiful thing. And it’s become a little bit difficult at this point in Covid. It’s been two years since we haven’t been able to hold those wonderful events. But as I’m saying, we’re still getting the soup out there, but just in a different way.
“Each month we’re delivering 5000 pounds of soup across the country to agencies in need.” ~ Sharon Hapton
Michele: You managed. You figured out a way to keep it going without stopping. So, March 3rd. Soup It Forward Day. What do you recommend people around the country do for the day.
Sharon: We recommend that you get a big pot of soup on the stove. Think about family and friends in need. These days, it’s not hard to find those people you know who need that extra little bit of comfort. And, I’ve delivered soup to family friends most of my adult life, and that’s what gave me the idea to start Soup Sisters because I understood in that moment how meaningful the exchange was. I would show up to people’s homes with soup, and they were like, “How did you know? We didn’t even talk that there was something wrong.” I would just show up. It’s about that, about showing up.
It’s about simple kindness. Listen, you can deliver it upstairs to your kid in their bedroom. There are no parameters as to where you can deliver it. I deliver every day to a stranger who is a homeless man across the street that sits on a bench every day outside my window. I have a beautiful exchange with him every day. And that’s sort of outside of the hundreds of thousands of pounds of soup that the organization delivers. I find it’s as good for me as it is for them.
Michele: Beyond cooking in their home, is there a way they can contribute to the Soup Sisters.
Sharon: They can. We are a charitable organization. You can go to our website, soupsisters.org, and we have a page called MISO. What that stands for is Money In Soup Out. Those donations go directly to supporting agencies all over the country.
Michele: If an organization wants to have your soup delivered, do they go to the website to submit an application, or how does that work?
Sharon: We don’t do the application process. If they were to go to our email @soupsisters.org, I would see, and I’m on it. We don’t have any kind of process where you have to convince us. If you’re asking for soup, we’ll get it to you.
Michele: I love your website. You have recipes. You have cookbooks, obviously, but you also have recipes. Do you have a favorite?
Sharon: I always get asked that question. I like to tell the story about the Mushroom Bean and Barley Soup that I delivered for years to family and friends. It was a recipe from a very well-known Canadian chef from Toronto. Her name was Bonnie Stern. And it was from one of her really early cookbooks, and it’s one I delivered for years. When it came to our very first cookbook, I asked to publish it as my recipe and, of course, giving her credit for it. She very kindly agreed. She’s done virtual soup pods for us. That’s a hardy, delicious recipe. Mushroom, Bean, and Barley Soup. Some people say they don’t want meat; they do want meat, they want vegetarian, so it was always a good one to package up and deliver.
“I like to tell the story about the Mushroom Bean and Barley Soup that I delivered for years to family and friends.” Sharon Hapton
Michele: We have tons of followers who are extremely generous and like to volunteer at local shelters. Is this something Soup It Forward would also promote?
Sharon: With a little more difficulty because of Covid and depending on where you are in Canada and the U.S. It seems like all the rules are changing from province to province. We do have people all over the country who are delivering for us. They pick it up at a VersaCold depot in a city near them.
VersaCold is a huge refrigerated trucking company. They are right now delivering our soup for us for free for the last two years. So we do have volunteers who go to the VersaCold depot and pick up that delicious soup. It’s flash-frozen. And they bring it to the agencies. We’re just getting started on bringing back events, the hands-on events. Anybody in New Jersey could certainly Google Soup Sisters New Jersey on Facebook. Those events are happening every month right now live. They’re so great and so much fun to make soup with your friends and know that you literally change someone’s day with the soup alone.
Michele: What stories am I missing? What do you want to tell me that I’ve not asked you about?
In the Schools
Sharon: We’ve been operating for 13 years, and we’ve done so many wonderful, meaningful things. I’ll tell you what Soup Sisters is doing next week on March 3rd. I love this idea. It’s got a little bit to do with the parameters of Covid, but we are partnering with a food truck, and we’re going to a junior high school, a low-income school of 750 kids. And we’re bringing them soup. All of them, plus their teachers, come out to the food truck to get a hot lunch. That’s what we’re doing next Thursday, March 3rd. We’re Souping It Forward in a huge way. We’re ensuring all of their teachers, some of the most important front-line people, each of them, are getting a four-pound bag of soup to take home to their families.
Michele: That is such a wonderful event, bringing the school together and all those students getting a nice, hot lunch of homemade soup.
Sharon: They’re very excited! They know Soup Sisters, and we’ve done events inside the school before. But this is like the newer model. This is the update to “how do you make it work with the times.” Well, the Soup Truck idea came, and I think it’s really going to work.
Michele: There are so many places where soup is a major part of their organization. So, I imagine that there are plenty of places that can incorporate the same idea all across the country.
It’s such a beautiful way to give, too. ~ Sharon Hapton
Sharon: Yeah. It’s a simple idea, so doable. It’s such a beautiful way to give, too. I think very few people in need receive in such an all-encompassing way. Heat and serve. That’s an important part of this. We’re not giving things to people who are stressed out. It’s made easy and nutritious, and delicious.
Michele: Thank you for joining us, Sharon with Soup Sisters. We’re going to be celebrating on March 3rd on National Soup It Forward Day. If you’d like to start a Soup Sisters chapter in your area, please contact Sharon Hapton at Soupsisters.org.
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