By Ivan Watson
For the Saanich News
On any given day, the professional production kitchen at Camosun College’s Interurban campus is a vibrant hub of students and instructors preparing fresh and healthy food from scratch. With the sizzle of frying pans and the gleam of stainless steel counter tops, the kitchen is a top-notch Red Seal-certified facility for learning the essentials of professional cooking.
“I think people are always impressed when they come into our facility,” says Culinary Arts chair Steve Walker-Duncan, who has spearheaded a 24-month partnership with Soup Sisters Victoria to produce fresh and healthy soups for the Victoria Women’s Transition House. “The community doesn’t normally get to see this kind of training facility from the inside. By working with the Soup Sisters charity we’re reaching out and inviting the community into the community college.”
The first of the new series of monthly Soup Sisters events on Jan. 24 was a huge success, as members of Harbourside Rotary Club each provided the money to cover the costs of ingredients, rolled up their sleeves in the kitchen and collectively produced 77 litres of healthy and hearty soup. The soup was delivered fresh that same night to the Victoria Woman’s Transition House and immediately frozen to provide a month’s worth of nourishing soup for their clients. The Soup Sisters refers to this approach as a “hug in a bowl.”
At the first event of the Camosun partnership, participants produced a variety of delicious soup flavours including cabbage roll with beef, chicken tortilla, Moroccan lentil, and apple, parsnip and brie. “Food connects us all,” says Walker-Duncan. “When people come together and sit around a table and break bread and enjoy food together, they break down all sorts of barriers.”
Promoting healthy and violence-free relationships is a core value of the Victoria Women’s Transition House and food plays a vital role in that. “A lot of people when they arrive at our crisis shelter are not ready to start making full meals, and they are looking for comfort food and something that can be heated up and accessed easily,” says Carol Bilson, Victoria Transition House community education and volunteer co-ordinator. “The soups are the perfect comfort food. Having a bowl of soup and being safe is a great feeling. This is a really great collaboration for us.”
Soup Sisters volunteer Christie Ulmer agrees and invites individuals, community and corporate groups to sign up for an upcoming session. “For anyone thinking of participating, I would say that you’ll be doing great work that goes directly to benefit your community and the soup that you make goes directly to the women and children at Transition House. The message they receive is that they are not forgotten at this time of crisis in their lives and that the community cares.” The events are lively, fun and hands-on. “We welcome both individuals and groups. This is the perfect team-building evening for organizations and great for a group of friends. You get to have fun with your friends or colleagues, support a great cause and maybe even learn some new skills in the kitchen. How often do you get to participate in something special like that?”
Since 1975 Victoria Women’s Transition House has provided a safe and welcoming emergency shelter, respectful counselling and helpful services for women of all ages, with and without children, fleeing domestic abuse. They offer an 18-bed shelter, 24-hour Crisis and Information Line as well as counselling and support programs for women, unique programs for older women, and specialized programs for children who witness abuse.
Soup Sisters was founded in 2009 in Calgary and currently has chapters in major cities around Canada and the U.S. In Victoria, the group charges a $55 participation fee per person to cover the expenses of ingredients for the soups, the venue, supervision, and chef support. This ensures that the finest ingredients possible are used every time for the soups provided to women, children and youth. Events are social evenings with lively conversation, chopping, laughter and warm kitchen camaraderie that culminate in a simple, sit-down supper of soup, salad, bread and wine for all participants. Each event produces approximately 150-250 servings of fresh soup that sustains Transition House with nourishing and nurturing soup each month.