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Soup SistersBy FERN SWEDLOVE
Retirement for Miriam Bronstein, Sandi Malamud and Harriet Zimmer is fueled each month by helping to make 90 to 120 litres of fresh soup for Willow Place. “We are not retired, we are re-fired,” says Miriam Bronstein.

Women and their children who live at Willow Place need to be in this safe and supportive environment because they have experienced domestic violence.
Three years ago, these three dynamos came together to form the Winnipeg chapter of Soup Sisters and Broth Brothers. Individuals, couples and interest groups meet once a month at the Fairmont Hotel to make soup for Willow Place. This hands-on evening is about doing for others, showing that people care and a take home message: “It is not OK to be in an abusive relationship,” says Sandi.
At each event someone who lived at the shelter speaks. Jen (not her actual name) is one of those individuals. When Jen resided at Willow Place (formerly Osborne House) she enjoyed the daily soup and jumped at the opportunity to attend a Soup Sisters event. Jen felt strongly that she wanted to give back. “I received the chance to thank the women who helped me in a time of need,” she said. “I became one of the women speaking out and standing up to domestic violence.” Hearing Jen is a very powerful experience for the participants. “There is usually not a dry eye after she speaks,” says Harriet.
The evening is part cooking show, part opportunity to experience the over the top commercial kitchen graciously donated by the Fairmont Hotel and part just a fun evening out.
Chef Tim Palmer from the Fairmont always has something new and exciting to share. Sandi has changed how she cooks, experimenting with different spices and techniques. The participants get to experience a whole new cooking experience such as using an “immersion blender that could double as an outboard motor,” said Harriet.
The evening begins on a Sunday at 5:30 and ends at 8:15, when the participants enjoy the fruits of their labour by sitting down to a nice meal at the hotel. Over the past three years, word has spread and the event attracts people from different places such as workplaces, book clubs, church groups or coming to celebrate a special occasion. Sandi, Miriam and Harriet love the people they have met and have built up relationships with the regular attendees. Jen feels that these three women have become part of her family. “They have given me strength, even when they did not know who I was,” she said.
It was Miriam, a former teacher, who first attended a Soup Sisters event in Ottawa with her daughter and quickly recruited her colleague, Sandi. Harriet heard about the cause from a relative and joined the group after she retired as a social worker. Sandi said, “I just loved the whole idea.” These three retired women have melded together and even adopted nicknames for each other: Miss Bossy, Miss Patient and Miss Lovely are the trifecta for any great fundraiser to be built on. “We balance each other nicely,” says Harriet.
Each container of soup is labeled with the name of the person who made the soup as well as with a personal message. One person wrote “made with love,” said Miriam. Although the Fairmont is very generous, producing over 100 litres of soup still requires a participation fee of $55 a person to pay for the ingredients, a person to clean the equipment, appetizers, wine and a light dinner that the participants enjoy after they have finished making the soup. This donation of soup to Willow Place results in a 12% reduction in their budget and the savings are used to fund other programs at the shelter. But the soup provided to Willow Place goes beyond providing nourishment and budget assistance. Jen describes the experience of having the Soup Sister’s soup as finding that there were “people on my side, people who stood by me for leaving domestic violence. I received warmth and comfort in a time when myself and my children desperately needed it.”
Domestic violence continues to be hidden. There is a constant demand for people to live at Willow Place, particularly among the immigrant population, says Harriet. People can become lost while living with their pain, silenced because of their fear. Children can be caught in the crossfire. Perhaps one of the more powerful moments is when Harriet, Sandi or Miriam go to Willow Place to deliver the soup. “I am reminded how lucky I am, but that the world is very difficult”, says Miriam. All three women know that Soup Sisters is making a difference and feel strongly about the cause. “We need to eradicate domestic abuse,” says Harriet.
Soup Sisters would love to have you come out and join an evening of making soup for Willow Place. You can visit their website at www. soupsisters.org/winnipeg.php for further information and to register for the next event.

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