As a response to the Coronavirus emergency, the Slow Soup Drive was born in April 2020, organized by Slow Food Barbados, to tackle the issues of food waste, malnutrition and food security, by providing persons and families in need with hot, wholesome and nutritious soups, predominantly made with local ingredients.
“Slow Food Barbados believes that farmers and growers are the backbone of every community,” says Rheanna Chen, this year’s Slow Soup Program Coordinator. “We also believe that chefs and farmers can unite to create a more sustainable, food-secure island while supporting our communities”.
Since March 2020, the health emergency in Barbados has brought all activities to a halt. The island, which recorded its first Covid-19 cases on March 17, according to the Pan American Health Organization, was one of the first states in the Caribbean to acquire Covid-19 testing and detection kits and to train laboratory staff on the new protocols.
Right away, the population was called upon to do its part by complying with restrictions and the national curfew. The Governor General, Dame Sandra Mason, repeatedly called on the population not to give in to anxiety and fear, keeping the Bajans spirit alive and taking advantage of the time to rediscover their roots and traditions.
“The Covid-19 crisis heightened the fact that there are many on our island who don’t have adequate access,” Rheanna explains. “Not only to online resources, but to wholesome food! There is still a long road ahead for families whose income has not yet returned, in an island reliant on a tourism industry which will take longer to recover than these families can wait.”
“With Slow Soup we wanted to help serve those in communities who were left vulnerable from the effects of the COVID-19 crisis,” Stefon Barker, Slow Soup Coordinator, explains. “Isolated seniors, disabled persons, children and others who would have lost their primary source of income. Like many others, during my youth I was part of the School meals program. This included secondary school as my family was experiencing financial difficulties at that time. These School Meals programs are beneficial to many parents who may not have the necessary funds to give their children lunch money every day. The Slow Soup drive has not directly reached my community, but it is our hope that we are able to give back to as many communities that are vulnerable across Barbados.”
With guidance from local emergency management and service organizations, and through community partnership with Parish Independence Committees, Lion’s Club North, schools and churches, many vulnerable children and families in need have been discretely identified.
And as a response, the Slow Soup Drive was started in April 2020.
They began by bringing together professional chefs and talented cooks, who alongside volunteers, in a culinary all-hands-on-deck approach have been delivering warm, wholesome nutrition to those most in need one Slow Soup at a time.
“We started as a small group,” Stefon continues. “Myself, other Slow Food Ambassadors, the founding members of Slow Food Barbados and the Executive Chef of Local & Co along with the Cooks’ Alliance. This made up the initial small team that went into the Horny Ram Pub to prepare the space, gather ingredients, and reach out to suppliers. We continue to have an amazing community partnership with PICS (Parish Independence Committees); without them, we would never have been able to reach out to as many persons as we did. We were able to discreetly identify these persons/families with the help of these PICs and leaders in the community. The members of these groups distributed the soups and were able to help and give back to their communities and be a familiar face to those who were vulnerable. As the Soup Drive Operations Coordinator, it was extremely satisfying to be able to give back and make an impact on my island.”
Since April 2020, when the lack of nutritious food availability peaked, over 40,000 soups were delivered to vulnerable persons in 4 parishes by amazing volunteer delivery teams of over 60 people.
“I’ve learned many soup recipes,” Stefon concludes. “I’ve learned much more about being able to manage ingredients, use ingredients creatively and manage a food budget. I also learnt that many people in communities need a bit more guidance on how to utilize ingredients in their pantry. We made many different soups with a variety of ingredients such as chicken livers, different lentils, dumplings, wholesome fresh and organic vegetables and foraged ingredients like herbs. In Barbados, a family soup is very popular, and dumplings are a must. Some of these soups are made with ingredients like chicken feet/backs, pig tails, fish heads and I remember my mom making the family lamb neck soup with split peas when I was a kid. This is a favorite of mine still and I make it at home. When these people saw what we did with the ingredients available to us they too saw that they could make a wholesome, nutritious and healthy soup with the ingredients in their pantry. It’s not about having 20 ingredients to make a meal but making a delicious meal for their family even with 3-4 ingredients.”
“The Cooks’ Alliance,” Rheanna concludes, “has been wholeheartedly giving their time and skills, creating nutritious, hearty soups utilizing local, donated produce in borrowed kitchens, while adhering to the strictest health and safety standards of Covid-19. The soup kitchens have been churning out over 750 bowls per week since April. We also organized a fundraising campaign to support the overhead costs of rent, utilities, ingredients, compostable containers, chef stipends, gas and more. Faster than anyone imagined, the need became more dire, and the response was ramped up. Generous farmers who gave of their overstocked produce in the beginning and are now rewarded with weekly orders paid for by generous donations. We continue to grow and seek to make a lasting impression, sending a message of home-grown nutrition created by a united community of farmers and chefs supported by volunteers and philanthropists.”
The initiative recognizes the important role our local farmers play in co-creating a healthy food and healthcare system.
“It can all start with that community bond,” Rheanna and Stefon agree. “To repeat the initiative, we recommend that working with any grassroots movement such as Slow Food Barbados can be key in initiating a program like this. Community members can also gather in solidarity to start sustainable programs like this in neighborhoods and give to those in need. Getting communities involved with giving back is very important along with continuing to engage with persons in need. An organization like Slow Food Barbados and the Cooks’ Alliance is very important as we had connections with many chefs on the island. That was a great way to get the ball rolling and to bring other chefs on board. Across the island we have many famers and working with them can make a huge impact and further add to the local economy. Our relationship with many farmers was very impactful with the overall production of soups. We had farmers who were able to donate produce, chefs and volunteers who donated their time, supermarkets donating goods and produce, and other supply agencies who provided us with soup bowls, cleaning supplies and other supplies that were key to the operation.”
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