Soup. It’s a most charitable food. Think about it. Soup can complete any main dish if you’re stumped for ideas, or time. Soup can even step in as the main dish – so long as you’ve got a good hunk of bread to play side fiddle. It takes care of leftovers – just throw those remains in a pot and make some. (Soup makes for great leftovers too.) Soup serves as a source of consolation and support – which is why we take some to neighbours or friends in times of need. And one batch feeds many – after all, who ever heard of someone making enough to fill just one bowl?

‘To be sure,’ suggests Jane Parmley over a steaming bowl of – you guessed it – soup one special evening in early March, ‘soup really does have the ability to function as a source for good.’ Jane and I are nestled together at the impeccable bar of Chef Becky Hood’s 39 Carden Street restaurant in downtown Guelph, taking respite for a few minutes while two dozen folks move about the restaurant divvying up four humungous pots of soup into much smaller takeaway containers. Roasted Cauliflower. Tomato Tortellini. Yukon Sweet Potato. Chicken Noodle. ‘And that’s why,’ continues Jane, ‘we decided to bring Soup Sisters here to Guelph – as a means of bringing people together. We meet once a month to make soup for a more vulnerable group in our community. And,’ she adds,
‘to drink wine and have fun while we’re at it.’

Soup Sisters. An ingenious concept, really. Founded in 2009 by Calgarian Sharon Hapton as a community benefit organization that makes soup for residential shelters. By now Soup Sisters has spread across Canada as local chapters continue to pop up. And thrive. Today, Soup Sisters chapters produce over 10,000 servings of soup for women, children and youth each month – totaling over 1.5 million servings since 2009. Guelph Soup Sisters, which was started in October 2014 at 39 Carden by Jane, Victoria Edge and Mariola Mascarenhas, has been more than warmly received in the Royal City. With a mandate to provide three hundred servings of soup each month for Guelph-Wellington Women In Crisis (or WIC), this local chapter has become an integral player in the constant efforts that help keep our local women’s shelters sustainable.

‘Through Guelph Soup Sisters’ monthly efforts,’ WIC’s Jen Bailey tells me, ‘we are able to provide fantastic meals for twenty-eight women and children in our main shelter, plus individual packaged soup for distribution across our other locations – and left-overs as well.’ She adds: ‘And not only do our clients get to enjoy quality homemade soups, but they also understand that folks in our community are thinking of them, and caring for them, and standing with them. Which really goes a long way.’

I nod in agreement and look around the restaurant. Most of this evening’s soup has been ladled into containers, ready to be transported to various WIC locations. The night’s two dozen attendees, who have gathered to make and package soup for women and children in need (and who have paid to be here), are gathered in groups of twos and threes and fours. Chatting. Laughing. Sipping wine. Enjoying the restaurant’s glow of candlelight. And savouring the aroma of the incredible soups they have just made. Feeling utterly content. Because of the great work they have contributed to. And the splendid dinner of soup, salad, bread and wine they have enjoyed together just now, as a culmination of their labours together.

‘We really couldn’t have asked for a better reception locally,’ Jane remarks as I dig for a last spoonful of deliciousness in my bowl. ‘In fact,’ she continues, ‘we currently have a waiting list spanning into 2019.’ I marvel at this. And yet, I am not surprised. After all, if there’s one thing that can bring folks together – it’s soup.

That most charitable food.