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Soup’s on for those who need it most

Nothing fights the oncoming frosty weather like a warm bowl of hearty soup. Nobody knows that better than the Soup Sisters of Waterloo and the owners of The Culinary Studio in Kitchener.

Jody O’Malley of St. Jacobs and business partner Kirstie Herbstreit of Waterloo are the owners of the culinary school who’ve been helping the Sisters with their mandate to deliver warm, homemade soups to charities and shelters in Kitchener-Waterloo.

Three Waterloo women started the local branch of the national non-profit last September, inviting residents of the region to visit The Culinary Studio for an aromatic evening of cooking and socializing while providing a service to the community.

“They come in and use our space to create a hundred litres of soup to donate to charity,” O’Malley explained.

Jan Uffleman and Norma Weiner of the Soup Sisters found a good fit with the Culinary Studio’s Kirstie Herbstreit and Jody O’Malley, whose facility hosts monthly events where volunteers make soup for local shelters. [elena maystruk / the observer]
By last October the soup-making event started by Norma Weiner, Sandi McCrory and Jan Uffleman – which invites some 20 people to register and participate each month – was completely booked for a year in advance. The demand continues to grow, with people signing up for classes in September 2013.

“The community really has embraced it and we’ve been fortunate because the community has supported us so well,” Weiner said.

The Culinary Studio is a recreational cooking school that accommodates corporate events and farmers dinners while promoting local foods. But one Tuesday night per month they host the Soup Sisters event where Herbstreit and O’Malley demonstrate safe knife techniques to visitors before they get down to cooking for a good cause.

The $50 registration fee for the monthly event goes towards covering the expenses of using the venue and the products needed to make the soups.

“It’s a break-even situation – no money for the Culinary Studio, no money for Soup Sisters – it just keeps the wheel in operation,” Weiner explained.

One Tuesday each month, starting at 6 p.m., the Soup Sisters and a number of volunteers commandeer five stations at which 20 visitors make five different soups. The event’s participants choose from more than 50 recipes collected by the Soup Sisters organization, sent to local chapters on DVD. Classes have also made soups from recipes developed by the Culinary Studio.

“We make sure we have at least one vegetarian so that people here if they are vegetarian can enjoy [some] soup, but also at the shelters if anybody’s vegetarian,” said Weiner.

The Sisters keep favorites in mind and make sure those popular choices like hamburger soup and chicken noodle are made on a regular basis, along with soups that accommodate possible dietary needs. All in all, the evening yields close to 100 litres of soup, with their creators rewarded with a bowl of their own, complete with a glass of wine and fresh-baked bread, before the night’s products are ladled into containers for delivery the next day.

Though many of the participants come from clubs and organizations, many are there to celebrate anniversaries and personal events by participating in a one-of-a-kind evening.

“They come, they mingle, they laugh, they have fun; we get a demonstration on how to cut without cutting off our fingers with really sharp knives and they make soup – it’s a mixed affair. We’ve had more women than men but it’s wonderful,” O’Malley said.

The local Soup Sisters chapter started with delivering to two local shelters last year. Merillac Place, a organization and three-story shelter for young mothers in Kitchener, and ROOF (Reaching Our Outdoor Friends), a Kitchener-based organization that reaches out to youth and the homeless. Last month the Sisters were proud to bring The Women’s Crisis Service of Waterloo Region’s Anselma House into their fold as well.

As a national charity organization, Soup Sisters has a dozen branches throughout Canada. Other Ontario locations include Toronto, London and Ottawa.

The Culinary Studio has been with Waterloo’s Soup Sisters from the start, O’Malley said. The organization held an event at the studio when they first started and fell in love with the central location known to many local residents as the former Vincenzo’s location at 740 Belmont Ave. W.

“It’s a wonderful experience. A good time is had by all. It’s a beautiful venue and they are well equipped to accommodate what amounts to 20 participants,” Weiner said.

Herbstreit and O’Malley have renovated the former food store (and one-time Beer Store) beyond recognition to include cozy, fully stocked cooking studio with all the trimmings, including a demonstration area and high-end cooking equipment perfect for events like the Soup Sisters’ monthly get-togethers.

“They are a new organization as well,” Weiner said of the Culinary Studio.

“This was a way of them doing something as well in the community. We get 20 new faces each month so it’s a great opportunity for the Culinary Studio to show who they are as well. People are at least familiar with the physical site. They come in and see what the Culinary Studio has to offer.”

For more information about the Soup Sisters, visit www.soupsisters.org.


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