Traditional ingredients being selected for the authentic Chinese soup served at Mount Saint Joseph Hospital

“Soup for the Soul” at Mount Saint Joseph Hospital

November 29th, 2017

How a modest gift from a grateful family started something special

The Soup for the Soul program at Mount Saint Joseph Hospital, which provides traditional Chinese soup for elderly residents, was borne of an act of appreciation and generosity—and from an environment of consummate care.

The care element of this special program’s founding involves a group called the Residents Council, which is made up of MSJ residents who meet every month to discuss how improvements may be made to their living experience at MSJ.

That such a group exists and that its concerns are taken very seriously by staff is testament to the type of care provided for the hospital’s one-hundred elderly residents. Having residents feel at home, feel that they are part of a community and that their opinions matter defines elder care at MSJ. The Residents Council is but one way this vision of care is realized.

An item always on the agenda for the Residents Council is food and MSJ dieticians, kitchen staff and its food services company, Sodexo, are always cooperative, often changing and shaping the menu accordingly and honouring special requests where they can. One item that came up was the desire for Chinese soup. This was no surprise given that more than 90% of residents at MSJ are Chinese.

And these seniors, let it be said, know their soup.

Authentic Chinese soup with traditional ingredients

The request was not for anything mass produced, but for authentic Chinese soup with traditional ingredients.

Chinese soup, after all, has an important traditional value that resembles healing and care in Chinese culture; the soup promotes physical and spiritual well-being and the ingredients are tailored according to the Yin & Yang theory of traditional Chinese Medicine. The soup is made with fresh seasonal vegetables along with natural herbs to complement each ingredient to create the Yin & Yang balance to promote good health. Traditional Chinese soup soothes the throat, hydrates the body, and improves appetite and circulation.

The MSJ team heard what their residents were saying (dietician Helen Yeung was already involved and the MSJ Food Services Manager had also begun to attend the meetings) but as the list of items required to make the soup grew, the issue of budget inevitably came up.

Not only would fresh and often organic ingredients be expensive, so would the special pot that would be needed to cook the soup, the two warmers that would be needed to keep it hot, and the traditional bowls and spoons with which it would be served. It was all starting to add up!

A gesture of thanks from a grateful family

It was around this time that one of the residents at MSJ had passed away and her daughter, filled with gratitude for the care her mother had received, expressed a desire to give back in some way, specifically by making a donation to thank the team that had cared for her mother.

MSJ social worker Suzana Philip saw an opportunity. Suzana suggested that this person’s donation could cover the costs of a new soup program they were trying to get started.

“She thought this would be a wonderful way to help,” says Suzana, “so we costed everything out and she agreed to make a donation to cover these costs.”

While this initial gift got the new soup program started, the plan was that the soup would be offered on a regular basis, which meant that soon the ongoing cost of ingredients had begun to impact the kitchen’s budget. When this situation arose, St. Paul’s Foundation development manager Doreen Lam was able to arrange with additional donors to have the cost of the new soup program covered annually.

All of this happened in the fall of 2013 and today authentic Chinese soup is served every Tuesday and Friday at Mount Saint Joseph to the delight (and good health!) of residents. Dietician Helen Yeung makes regular trips to Vancouver’s Chinatown for ingredients. It has even been noticed that residents who don’t always take food easily will often want second helpings of the soup.

A true reflection of the MSJ vision of care, residents play an important role in Soup for the Soul, providing Helen Yeung with lots of ideas and letting her know how they used to make the soup for their own families. In addition to its many medicinal benefits, the spiritual ones may mean even more. For residents, “Soup Day” (as Soup for the Soul is affectionately known) brings happy memories of family dinners around the dining room table—and peace and contentment here in the present.

Soup for the Soul is an example of how a modest gift from a caring family not only helped to start something, but inspired others to get involved, too. When you make a gift to support patient care at Mount Saint Joseph Hospital or any Providence Health Care hospital or residence, you not only give—you inspire.