Five years ago, Lisa Berkery was hiking with a friend while on vacation in Mexico. Berkery asked another traveler, a Canadian named Sharon Hapton, to take a picture of the two of them, and Hapton happily obliged. On the walk down, the three women chatted about their lives.
Berkery listened with interest to Hapton talk about the non-for-profit she started on her 50th birthday, an operation called Soup Sisters that brings women together to talk, cook, drink wine, and make soup for people in need. As stated on the Soup Sisters website, Hapton had “a simple belief in the power of soup as a nurturing and nourishing gesture that could make a tangible difference.”
At the time of their meeting, Hapton had established Soup Sisters in 22 cities in Canada and was eager to continue growing her idea, possibly in the United States. Little did she know that that chance meeting on a mountain in Mexico would lead to just that. Berkery, intrigued by Hapton’s story, took her contact information and said she would be in touch.
People leave the class floating on cloud nine. They have had an enjoyable evening out, a delicious meal, and a hands-on volunteer experience.
Berkery herself was at a crossroads in life. She would turn 50 soon, her kids were moving out, and she was looking for a way to give back to her community. Upon returning from her vacation and feeling inspired, Berkery reached out to her friend Caroline Hough. The two had met years ago through their children. Hough was a professional chef with connections in the cooking world. The women decided to partner up to bring Hapton’s Soup Sisters to New Jersey.
Locating a space willing and able to meet their needs wound up being harder than they anticipated. “We needed a commercial kitchen that was certified,” Hough says. “Many cooking schools and restaurants we approached weren’t sure how running the program would benefit them. But they didn’t realize the free publicity or goodwill they would receive from participating.” Knowing that it was a great concept, the women refused to give up. After much searching, Soup Sisters New Jersey found a home at Spectrum 360, a school serving children and adults on the autism spectrum, in Livingston, New Jersey. They operated there for a year and then moved into their current space at Healthy Italia, a cooking school in Madison, New Jersey.
Berkery and Hough are now three years into their Soup Sisters New Jersey endeavor, and most classes sell out months in advance. For $65, participants eat a meal (soup, salad, bread, wine) and cook 70 liters of soup that is donated to Jersey Battered Women’s Services. Hough says the donation cuts the shelter’s food costs by 18 percent per month. The Soup Sisters invite an employee from the charity to speak at each of the classes.
“The joy and fulfillment I see on each person’s face at the end of the class proves to me that managing a Soup Sisters location was my answer to giving back in a meaningful way. I overheard a participant say that her heart was full, along with her stomach — and that sums it up perfectly,” Berkery says.
Are you ready to nourish not only yourself but those in need? Soup Sisters is looking to expand to other cities. Contact Berkery or Hough at firstname.lastname@example.org to find out how to start Soup Sisters where you live. Learn more at soupsisters.org.