BACKSTAGE: Student soup kitchen a labour of love for Jim and Joansie

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Public Relations Liaison Michael D. Reid gets behind the scenes of Soup Night, a longstanding College tradition.

 

It’s a popular refrain in many schools and workplaces: Thank God it’s Friday.

At the Canadian College of Performing Arts, however, you’ll more likely hear students exclaim “Thank God it’s Monday!” on the last Monday of each month.

That’s when College music director Jim Hill and longtime volunteer and supporter Joan Wells operate their “soup kitchen” for students, an eagerly-anticipated monthly event that augments the College’s Student Food Bank program.

“We love doing it, and it’s not really that much work,” said Joan, affectionately known as Joansie, who at the last event tried not to fret about having forgotten a bag of bread at home, or the kitchen’s oven malfunctioning at the 11th hour.

“I hope the soup’s hot enough and we don’t run out of bread,” she lamented.

It was, and they didn’t, thanks to the resourcefulness that is a way of life here.

Dozens of students who stormed into the student kitchen shortly after 5:30 p.m. that evening certainly weren’t complaining. The vegetable barley soup scooped out of a giant soup pot was as hearty as ever, complemented by crackers, cheese, bread, fruit, dessert and other tasty treats being enthusiastically devoured.

“This is so good!” enthused Year 2 Diploma student Rose McTavish. “And it’s great that we’re all eating at the same time too, eating the same good food.”

The menu is particularly popular when there are some sugary treats, said Joansie, recalling the Halloween edition when she wore a black witch’s hat while stirring the cauldron and how piles of tiny chocolate bars and candy bags went fast.

“You’d think they never had candy,” laughed Joansie.

While Joansie is responsible for making the soup, among other things, Jim goes shopping for ingredients and tries not to cry while slicing the onions.

“He’s my chief chopper-upper. I say to him, ‘Just keep your fingers,’” she said.
This is good advice for a prolific pianist such as himself, says Jim.

“Otherwise I’d have to play with my nose,” he quips.

Year II students Chevy Forsyth, Isabella Giampaolo, Rose McTavish, Geraldine Schaer, and Regina Rios (L-R) enjoying a bowl of soup.

Soup-guzzling students in the kitchen could barely contain their gratitude.

“We love Jim and Joansie, and how they understand that we are very busy at CCPA,” said Year 2 student Isabella Giampaolo, another of the 73 students who are currently enrolled at the College, which offers three different programs.

Year 1 Diploma student Ella Daly said the student soup kitchen nights provide the family-type camaraderie she misses because she’s not home for dinner.

“Especially on soup night we all get together,” she said. “We’re always so busy and rushing around but when it’s soup night it’s like having a family dinner.”

It’s the students’ appreciation that keeps the couple going, says Joanie.

“They are the best. They’re so polite and passionate about everything they do.”

The soup night in the main-floor student kitchen is the continuation of a tradition started by former board member Jack Romphf and his wife Susan when College co-founders Jacques Lemay and Janis Dunning were at the helm.

“Their daughter Jocelyn was in New York studying to become an opera singer, and they knew that as a student she’d be starving by the end of the month,” said Joansie. “They felt that the students here should also get some food.”

The Romphfs retired their soup ladies when Lemay and Dunning retired, and Jim and Joansie took it up a few years ago.

“There was a hiatus and we got hungry on Monday nights,” joked Jim.

“The students usually run out of money by the end of the month and this lifts their spirits.”

The Student Food Bank was created by the non-profit Canadian Heritage Arts Society to ensure that students who cannot afford to eat a balanced, nutritious diet while enduring the rigours of an intense training program would have access.

While CHAS offers tuition subsidies, bursaries and scholarships with help from generous donors and corporate partners, some students struggle with maintaining access to food essentials.

It relies on donations of non-perishable items and cash to purchase gift cards to local grocery stores so that students can use the service throughout the year.

To donate, visit canadahelps.org, or call 250-595-9970.

 

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Michael D. Reid

Michael D. Reid

Before joining the College as public relations liason, Michael D. Reid enjoyed a lengthy and productive career covering theatre, film and television for a variety of publications, most recently the Victoria Times Colonist. Showbiz is his life.