99% soup

This Thursday, the aroma of mouthwatering soup hung heavy in the air at the South Side Hub of Production in Hyde Park. Volunteers gathered for an organizational meeting of the “Soup Brigade,” a group of mostly retired women who cook up pots of soup for Occupy Chicago protesters. Elisabeth Ruyter, one of the founders of the Brigade, brought along a Thermos of her vegetarian stew for visitors to taste at the meeting. Rich orange in color, the soup’s ingredients included squash, celery, peppers, ginger, and “whatever I could find, all mashed together,” Ruyter told the group. Not quite ready to release her formula for the well-seasoned stock, she simply said she added a few “secret ingredients” to finish it off.

Since winter is fast approaching, Ruyter–a lively octogenarian and Hyde Park resident–decided soup would be the best donation she could give in support of the movement. To help protesters battle the cold weather and boost spirits,  she prepared several Thermoses full of homemade soup, and hopped on a bus headed downtown to hand out the hearty sustenance.  Ruyter explained her political motivation for taking up her ladle for the cause to a group of about ten volunteers, “the current situation is untenable, and it is appropriate for somebody to speak out.”

In no time, Ruyter’s friends and neighbors got wind of the project. Some, no longer spring chickens, sympathized with the demonstrators and wanted to help. “My bones can’t take that cold weather,” explained Cecilia Briscle, a volunteer who lives in the same building as Ruyter, but the Soup Brigade gave her an accessible way to be involved in the movement.

The volunteers hope to make regular soup deliveries to the protesters, but in order to lay the logistical groundwork they will need lots of cooks in the kitchen. That means that anyone–master chef or not–can be useful. Newcomer Barbara Roy described herself as “no soup-maker,” but was still eager to help make and transport it.

The Soup Brigade has already attracted attention from the local media and news of their work has spread beyond the neighborhood. Donations have come not only from the local grocer, Hyde Park Produce, but Ruyter received a call from a farmer in Wisconsin wanting to deliver produce for the cause.

This Thursday though, the mood at the meeting was not self-congratulatory, but rather ambitious for further success. Ruyter, a petite but commanding woman, projected warmth as she spoke with volunteers before the start of the meeting, and doled out thanks and hugs along with samples of her soup. One spoonful alone conjured up the sensation of being tucked warmly indoors, safe from any flurry stemming from political upheaval–or simply cold weather.