March 4, 2021

Miriam Kohn: Soup Sisters

Miriam Kohn: Soup Sisters

Soup Sisters Winnipeg is an organization run by 3 local entrepreneurial women, Miriam, Harriet and Sandy, who make soup, or as Soup Sisters refers to it a "Hug in a Bowl" to support Willow Place. Willow Place supports Manitobans dealing with family violence and abuse. Learn how Soup Sisters are making a difference through education, and empowering other women. The enthusiasm of Soup Sisters is focussed, meaningful and inspirational.
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Soup Sisters Winnipeg is an organization run by 3 local entrepreneurial women, Miriam, Harriet and Sandy, who make soup, or as Soup Sisters refers to it a "Hug in a Bowl" to support Willow Place. Willow Place supports Manitobans dealing with family violence and abuse. Learn how Soup Sisters are making a difference through education, and empowering other women. The enthusiasm of Soup Sisters is focussed, meaningful and inspirational. See omnystudio.com/listener for privacy information. See Privacy Policy at https://art19.com/privacy and California Privacy Notice at https://art19.com/privacy#do-not-sell-my-info.

Transcript

This podcast was recorded on the ancestral lands on Treaty One territory, the traditional territory of the Anishnawbe, Cree, Oji Cree, Dakota, and the Dene peoples, and on the homeland of the Métis nation.

This is Humans, On Rights. A podcast advocating for the education of human rights.

Here's your host Stuart Murray.

March 8th marks International Women's Day On this episode My guest, Miriam Cohn, will talk about how International Women's Day, the power of a bowl of soup, the leadership of local entrepreneurial women supporting a local organization has become a recipe for hope and success.

Welcome Soup Sisters Head chef Miriam Cohn.

Well, thank you very much, Stuart.

It's so nice to be here.

And I have to share my head chef with my two other Winnipeg originator, Soup sisters Harriet Zimmer and Sandy Melamed.

We were a trio.

We started this, uh, together in Winnipeg.

But of course it's interesting that you call me head chef because I'm the only one that wears a chef's hat at the event.

And so people think I work for the hotel.

In fact, I'm one of the women, but I love wearing my chef's hat.

No, no, and that's important.

And, you know, this is one of those instances, Miriam, and we're going to get into the detail.

But where you can't have too many chefs in the kitchen known, that is exactly correct.

Well said.

So Miriam Soup sisters tell me a little bit about who is soup sisters.

How did they start?

And what is their role here, particularly locally in Winnipeg, on the cusp of Sharon happens 50th birthday in Calgary.

She was kind of deciding.

What could she do with her life that could give back to her community?

She was always a big cook and baker and and share of things that she made with her friends.

And she thought for my birthday, I'm going to get a bunch of women together.

We're going to make soup and I'm going to deliver it to a shelter.

Well, when she delivered it to the first shelter, they really they had to check to make sure that the soup was safe.

But needless to say, that was in 2000 and nine and now in 2000 and 21 Soup Sisters was born in Calgary, and it is now in 27 cities in Canada and the US, and we service 40 shelters.

So Sharon happen after she had this one event, she created this template, and it was about 2000 and 13 where I was on the cusp of retiring and looking for something to do.

That was sort of interesting.

My friend Harry at Zimmer was also going to retire, and another friend of mine, um, Sandy Malamute, had retired the year before.

I was visiting my adult daughter in Ottawa, she said.

Mom, I'm going.

It's going to cost you $50 but I'm going to make soup with a bunch of my friends.

It's for a women's shelter.

You can join us for $50 or, you know, stay home.

Well, of course, I joined her and her friends, and the rest was history.

It was the most enjoyable, wonderful evening.

You felt that you were doing something good for people that needed your help.

There was a chef there that helped us.

We made several soups.

We package the soups.

It's a social event.

It was just such a beautiful evening.

And the thing that stuck with me the most was a woman from the shelter, always comes to the event.

There's kind of a package about how how this event takes place.

And the woman from the shelter told a little story.

We labelled the soup we handwrite the labels, and a woman from the shelter said that one of the Children was reading the labels.

You know, reading a carrots, celery dead and said, Mom, this soup is made with love.

Nice that that kind of stuck with me And I thought, We have to start this in Winnipeg And that's what sort of got the ball rolling.

Amazing.

So and the term Miriam Soup sisters.

You know, it's a charitable organisation, is it not?

Actually, it started to be Soup Sisters and Broth Brothers and Broth Brothers.

It was going to have a different focus.

So we love when men come to the kitchen.

But we are called soup sisters.

When people come to an event, it's not a donation, so it does cost.

It used to be $50 but it's now $55 and the event?

Well, first of all, I'll describe the event.

That would be great.

Sure, I think I think it's really it's really special.

So So Miriam just to set the table.

Sorry to use that analogy.

Do you invite people or tell us, how would somebody know about it?

Walk us through that process into the kitchen.

And then as you start doing your cooking people that are groups that come to soup.

Sisters are usually clubs, you know, offices, Christmas parties, theatre groups.

So people find out about it.

And maybe you want to celebrate a special birthday instead of buying me a present.

Let's five of us girlfriends go.

It'll cost us $55 and we'll go have an evening at the Fairmont Hotel.

So right, they get in touch with me.

There's an email address and they pay for the event ahead of time.

We come to the Fairmont Hotel, which is another story in itself.

We won the lottery when the Fairmont Hotel, uh, decided to come on board with us.

We are the only.

We have our own chef.

We have a dishwasher, we have cloth, you know the table is set with cloth and cloth napkins.

It is really such a special event when people, you know, come in.

There's a lot of excitement when people sign in and The first thing we do is we have appetisers, so people get their little appetisers.

And, of course, a glass of wine you can't cook.

You can't possibly imagine super.

Anything over the glass is absolutely not.

So you must have a glass of wine and we sit down and we everyone sits down at the tables and we start.

We have.

First of all, there is a speaker at the event from, uh, well, one of us speaks first.

One of the soup sisters welcomes everybody, and then someone either the volunteer coordinator.

Someone speaks from the shelter, so they kind of give Tell us what what it's like to be in the shelter.

They, uh, there's a 30 day maximum for staying in the shelter.

It's women and Children.

There's 40 beds.

So, you know, from the excitement, um, of coming in the room gets a little quiet because we're listening to, um, you know what life is really like and, you know, soup sisters.

We kind of call ourselves a hug in a bowl, because we we want to, you know, it just makes us realise what we're there for.

And you know what's going to come of the event.

And then, of course, what happens at this event that didn't happen.

Actually, in Ottawa.

But we do This is that someone that has graduated from the shelter comes and speaks.

So it would be a mom.

We've had a few women, um, now maybe three or four.

And they talk about their story and their, uh their cycle of abuse and how they got out of the cycle of abuse and how they remember the soup at the shelter and how when they left the shelter and we're moved into a safe space, maybe one of the couple leaders of the soup was sent along with them to start for their first meal.

Um, in their, uh, in their new apartment.

So, um, that's a very moving moment.

And so on that part, Miriam, just to sort of just take a second.

So you you've got an event at the Fairmont.

And as you said, you you hit the mother lode by getting the Fairmont because, you know, again, and I think we need to acknowledge their participation in this.

So, you know, shout out to the Fairmont and there's a chef there, and then it's It's the soup sisters that prepare for the people that are in attendance.

Or do they?

Is it kind of, you know, if I were to come along in my say, I was the member of a men's book club and we thought we were going to do exactly as you said and we came to the Fairmont.

Would we be able to participate, or are we sort of the guests?

And we watched the incredible work that the soup sisters do to prepare the meal for us in most events again because it's in an industrial kitchen.

When you come to an event when you are a participant in the event, you actually make the soup that you eat so the appetisers are served, and then after you prepare the soup, we sit down.

The participants sit down and have Ebola soup and some salad, and some rolls with that.

So in all the other events to all 27 cities, they the soup is prepared by the people that attend.

But because we're at the Fairmont Hotel, our chef always likes to prepare some special soup for us.

So we, as participants make about 100 litres of soup, five different flavours.

Three or vegetarian to have meat in them.

They're very hardy chicken noodle soup, chiles, you know, Brandis chilly.

So when the soup is cooking, so everybody slicing and dicing we have.

After the event in the Lombard room, we all go into the kitchen and everybody is divided.

There's five groups and there's a recipe, and all the ingredients is laid out on all the tables and everybody slicing and dicing and chopping and visiting.

So again, from that moment of, you know, realising what you're doing, everybody kind of lets their guard down.

They've had a little wine and it becomes jovial again, Every event.

There has never been an event that I haven't learned something new about something in the kitchen, so they're very happy to share.

Anybody that is in attendance really has such a wonderful, wonderful time.

You don't need experience.

You enter it whatever level you know, a chef can be showing someone how to chop a carrot.

You know, just you know the very, very basics about how how to come home.

If you you know, if you come with 10 fingers, you better go home with 10 fingers you hope so?

Absolutely.

And and And this is, uh this would not be a place where somebody should come with a tennis soup and a can opener.

We're not.

Those people are not allowed.

This is this is making it from scratch.

So, Miriam, does the chef decide what type of soup that you're going to be making?

Or is that done in collaboration?

What's the process of deciding what kind of soup you're going to make?

We have about three cookbooks, actually that are actually sold on Amazon that have just come out of soup.

Sisters, we have many recipes.

So actually, we decide on the on the soups because we like to change it up.

And also, residents are very specific their soups, that they don't, that we've served, that we've come back and we found them there after a month.

So we know what they like.

We know what the kids like.

Our cookbooks are sort of a little more exotic, but the things that we make for each event are really quite the substantial kind of basis.

So we've got a fair bit to unpack here because I want to find out a little bit more about your cookbooks.

We want to come back and talk about that because I assume all of this is going to be in support of something financially.

But you have mentioned Miriam that when you do all of this, you come together for soup sisters and you you make like 100 litres of soup.

The people that are there get a chance to eat what was made.

But you're making a lot of other soup, and you mentioned the notion that it's there to support a shelter.

Do you want to talk about that shelter and give it a name and just sort of let people understand the importance of what soup sisters are involved in?

When Sharon Hampton started or created this event, every kitchen is connected to one shelter.

We do other things just on the side, because we like to just as soup sisters Winnipeg.

But the reality is that we are connected to Willow Place that is a first stage women's shelter for women and Children that are suffering abuse, and that's the first place that they go to at our very first event.

We actually we instead of charging $50 I think it was $90 and you've got a cookbook.

And this was in 2013 when we started, and we purchased a freezer for the shelter.

We have our freezer that holds our soup at our shelter, and every month we fill it with, you know, 100 litres of soup.

And when we come back the next month, the soup is gone.

Another thing I should mention about the soup, as I said, five flavours.

But when the soup is cooking, just before we have our light dinner of soup and style of the participants who have just cooked the soup, they write labels.

So we have.

And we could generate the labels on a computer that would be simple, like, why would we bother to handwrite labels?

But we really like the mums and the Children to see hand written labels so that they really get that a community of people care about them and, you know, want to do something good for them.

Give them a hug in a bowl that they care made you know.

So it's very important.

We always we always handwrite the labels, and then you you know, the women or men young people.

People as young as 13 have attended these events.

Young if you know if you can.

If you can use a knife, we say if you can use the night, if you can come to the event, they sign it, you know, from the skating group or from the cooking group or care about you were thinking about you.

It's got the soup.

Has that personal gives it that sense that, as you said earlier, that some child reading it saying that you know the soup was made with love, right?

Right.

How did you choose Willow Place As your charity charity.

It is the first stage shelter, and I think it was simply a phone call and whoever gets the phone call first.

It's not like when Sharon brought soup and they were worried that there was going to be tainted.

You know, people know about soup sisters.

So sure, the minute they get the phone call, they just have to go online and they feel like they won the lottery because we actually reduced, you know, they don't get a lot of money per day.

I don't want to say the amount, because I might get it wrong.

That's fair enough small amount of money per person to feed everyone, and we decrease food costs by 15 to 18%.

They count on our suits.

They, you know, that's that's quite that's substantial, Miriam and worth worth noting.

And you know, one of the things that you know we do on these this podcast is that we make sure that on our social media that we always make reference to your organisation soup sisters, which we will do.

Plus, we'll mention willow Place if people are interested in finding out about it.

Because I think that you know, when you talk about that kind of a reduction from an expense, But what you're providing them is something that is healthy, hearty, that, you know, you can freeze it.

It has a shelf life.

Uh, so it's a brilliant thing.

I want to just get your sense Miriam of what is the You know, the value of soup.

I mean, tell me from your perspective and and your other soup sisters the value of why you think soup, you know, as opposed to anything else.

I think it's a it's a fabulous thing, but in your words, the value of soup.

It's a hot bowl of soup, just even when you hold a hot bowl of soup.

Just all that that conjures a warmth connection.

Um, it's hardy.

It's nurturing.

It's full of vitamins and everything.

Good that you could possibly need for sustenance.

So that's what it means.

And again, we coined the phrase a hug and we didn't coin it.

But we say a hug in a bowl.

You know, that's what we like to give the mums and Children.

They thank us.

And we hear a lot about how the Children and the women really, really enjoy the soup.

I'm sure now.

So, Miriam, here we are.

We're in 2021 as we're making this recording.

So we're still under this covid epidemic what you're talking about, which is such an amazing opportunity to gather people together at the Fairmont.

How has covid impacted what soup sisters does for Willow Place?

Well, I honestly I came.

I was on a vacation.

I came back to Canada last year and March.

I don't know.

Early March was our very last event.

I had We had no idea that that was going to happen.

We had a soup sister event.

You know, the next day there was a lockdown, and we knew by April, you know, we were saying, Can we make soup or, you know, like it was so foreign What was going on in the world?

We just couldn't even fathom what has happened.

Anyway, We used the word pivot a lot, you know, in this pandemic, because everybody is pivoting and trying to do something else.

Cisco is a commercial facility, and they use two of our recipes a month, and they make soup in a in a commercial facility and then transported across Canada to the 27 cities and 40 shelters, by versa.

Coal transport, we have.

So they're holding facilities in every city and magically, You know, once a month were called and we deliver, I think it's £400 of suit.

It's in boxes.

So one is vegetarian.

One is meat.

And once again So instead of delivering them in small containers, they come from a commercial kitchen, right?

And they're frozen.

Correct.

But we have not stopped delivering the soup.

Just absolutely phenomenal.

No kidding?

Yeah.

So, soup sisters, You know, people often say, Well, I get a tax receipts because you say you keep saying charitable charitable It is a charitable organisation.

Of course, the money that one pays for the event the 50 or $55 that is not tax deductible because it's really it pays for the ingredients for the event.

For the chef, for the dishwasher, a very small percentage goes to soup Sisters for Administration.

But it's really the cost of the event, right?

And some people, which is lovely, choose to make donations directly to soup sisters.

And that's fantastic.

That's not the purpose of the actual events are.

It's not that I'm giving you $55 and getting a tax receipt.

I'm paying for a service.

I'm buying a service, and that's that's pretty normal.

I've had some involvement with dinners where you spend whatever it is amount, but you know, the food is not, you know, it's not charitably tax deductible.

You have to pay for that.

The cost of a service So so and you know what you're doing is I mean, it's very, very, you know, obviously affordable for organisations and what you're giving back again, I'm just remind me again the percentage of saving that your soup sisters, by providing the product that they do to will, a place they're saving.

How much, in terms of some of their expenses?

18% on the food budget?

Wow.

No, no.

Good for you.

That's fantastic.

And I think the other thing that I just want to kind of come back to a couple other comments that you made Miriam you mentioned that Soup Sisters has cookbooks that are available on Amazon.

Now, if listeners decide that they want to go to Amazon to buy a cookbook, can you tell me about Is there a sense of where the revenue goes from the sale of the cookbooks, the cookbooks?

I believe that would be to soup Sisters.

It's not a money maker in any way.

We used to sell them at advance, but it became cumbersome and expensive.

So that's just sort of they exist.

And if people want them, they're lovely.

You can buy them on Amazon.

We also you know, we have aprons that say soup sisters, broth brothers.

But that's just, you know, feel good stuff.

But those aren't really.

I wouldn't say that that goes to Willow Place.

What we do actually at events Soup Sisters.

Sorry, Willow Place has a website, but also at the event.

Because we have people from Willow Place, we have a sheet of things they value that they would like to receive as donations, formula.

Diapers, sheets, pyjamas, socks.

Use this.

It's a way of gathering things to donate, and we tell people, Harry, it's one of our soup sisters, Kerr garages like the catch all so she she receives.

If someone wants to deliver some stuff, you know, they like little toiletry sized samples of shampoo and conditioner, the travel size Harriet gathers in her garage.

It's kind of a catch all, and when we deliver soup, we take all of those things and donate them to Willow Place.

We we look for ways to enhance what we do for Willow Place, but it's not really monetary.

It's with things and that they find useful.

Yeah, I mean, I'm sure that there's things that they need on a daily basis, and as you described so aptly and then I'm sure there's things I went on their website.

They talk about activities so they will let you know if you go on that website.

If there's things that you want to donate that might help out on activities, knowing that there might be women and Children and and looking to, you know, create activities.

So it's a very robust site.

The Willow Place site.

Um, and I think again when you look at the process Miriam of bringing people together to create something that is meaningful, that is hardy.

As you said, the hug of what did you say?

The hug of a bowl.

Such a great kind of image.

You know, when you explain it that way, it means so much.

If in this time now, Miriam as we're going through covid getting to the other side of it, seeing light at the end of the tunnel, what are your plans?

Or can you talk about your plans for soup sisters in the next number of months?

Well, whenever we can get back into the kitchen, we will definitely be back in the kitchen, and we will try and do the events as we did.

Someone said to me, because the event costs $55 and it's not tax deductible.

Someone said to me, Well, why don't you just donate the money to Willow play well, we could, but this event creates a whole level of education, of commitment, you know, empowering women, empowering the participants, educating people about domestic violence.

It's got so many levels of enrichment that, yes, we could give $55 to whomever and that would be the end of that.

But the value of making soup and coming together and hearing about domestic violence, which is so prevalent and and hearing from someone that has lived in the shelter, which is so there's never a dry eye.

It's so it really makes you realise that, you know, it is an event of such value, and we can just hardly wait to get back in the kitchen.

We can just hardly wait to get back in the kitchen with our chef and our dishwasher.

You know, we have a whole group of groupies there, you know, that are waiting for exactly what soup sisters.

You need your own theme song?

I think so.

Miriam, did you do you have the same chef and I don't want to put you on the spot, But if you remember the chef's name, if you want to give that particular person a shout out just so that people know well, it's been It's been Robert for a while, but you know, there have been other chefs before that, but usually one chef kind of takes at all.

That's amazing.

And the one thing I just want to come back to is the notion that we're in a society, that there's so much fundraising going on.

There's so many great causes you've been involved in, many of them.

I've been involved in some of them.

And the bottom line is, is that to make these things go, you have to write a check.

You know, there's there's an amount that you have to write, and of course, it goes to help a tremendous You know, there's a gap in in certain funding and organisation, so this helps to close that gap.

But I just think that it's such an important thing what soup sisters are doing by saying you could give us a check, but actually, if you come and you participate and you learn and the education piece and the hug in the bowl and something that's made with love, it's a notion that I think society is maybe changing from more to just buy this ticket to How can I help?

And that's what you're doing, right?

So I like to think that and you know, that's my answer when people say to me, I could write a cheque but anybody that's come there's a lot of repeat customers of people that come, and there are groups that come once a year.

We have a maximum of 30 in the kitchen.

You know, we can do it with as little as 15 or 20.

But of course, the more it's more fun.

If there's more people in the kitchen and people come every year, you know they'll have a theatre group or a book club and they will come once a year.

And I just hope that that happens again very soon because we really miss that part of the event.

The soup is still being served, and I'm so glad about that because Sharon happened and who was the brainchild of it in Calgary.

She was the real brainchild and she's the one that's keeping it going, so we're for ever grateful to her.

But the event is really something special for our community, and we can just hardly wait to get back in the kitchen, I think again.

I went on your website, the soup Sisters website, and I'll list all of your social media on my website.

Also, Miriam, just so people can sort of get in touch.

But I love the one acronym you had M I s o miso.

What does that stand for?

Money and soup out or something?

Yeah, right.

Yeah.

No.

Very, very clever.

Very, very well done.

So, Miriam, um, International Women's Day is March 8th.

You know this project that you and and Harriet and your sandy thank you have taken on three entrepreneurial women?

Does International Women's Day sort of mean to you as somebody who has recognised a need like Willow Place and have taken some action to make something happen?

Well, first of all, women will place serves women and Children.

So that's number one.

But I actually I, too went and looked on International Women's Day site.

And the words that stuck out in my mind were empower and educate.

And I feel really that the events that we that we a soup sister events educate women, educate the community at large in a very big way, and delivering soup.

You know, empower is an empowering thing that you know having a full tummy and knowing that people care about you is very empowering.

So those are the two words that really stuck out and also creative because this is a really, you know, International Women's Day is about being creative and thinking out of the box and doing something different.

And Soup Sisters is really out of the box thinking it's and it keeps evolving as different ideas and events, and it will keep evolving.

Yeah, things that are creative, that makes success and bring people together like soup sisters, I mean, clearly, as you say, you know, to some extent you're only getting started and your success has been amazing.

Miriam Cohn, um from soup Sisters.

I want to just close our conversation with something that I read, and I want to repeat it.

It says that March 8th is International Women's Day, a global day of recognition celebrating the social, economic, cultural and political achievements of women and girls and raising awareness of the work left to be done.

I would have to say that Soup Sisters is doing that in a great, great way and I congratulate you and all of your soup sisters for making a difference locally.

As we celebrate International Women's Day on March eight, Miriam Cohen It has been a delight to spend some time with you, and I look forward to maybe the opportunity to get in the kitchen and watch the rest of your magic and participate along with you.

Thank you so much for your time today.

That is so great.

I I really want to meet you in the kitchen.

Thank you, Stewart, for having me.

Thank you very much.

Miriam.

Talk too soon.

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