Around Town: Souper Bowls of Hope

Even before Helen Hughes got a standing ovation during Thursday’s Souper Bowls of Hope lunchtime fundraiser, she could sense a different vibe at its new venue.

“It was strange. I thought: ‘I should get up and do something. I’m just sitting around enjoying my soup,’ ” said the irrepressible former Victoria city councillor, who started the event 18 years ago.

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It’s not as if Hughes doesn’t deserve a break after so many years chairing the event, which has raised more than $950,000 for the Victoria Youth Empowerment Society.

The tireless philanthropist finally got a chance to relax at the Victoria Conference Centre, where the fundraiser was relocated from past venues, including the Inn at Laurel Point and Fairmont Empress.

Seated with her husband, retired judge Ted Hughes, she predictably became the centre of attention after the Vic High School R&B Band finished its first gig.

True to form, the charity’s founder would have preferred the spotlight remain on Victoria’s most vulnerable youths aged 13 to 19, and the families of at-risk youths the non-profit society supports.

Still, she couldn’t help but be moved by the adulation from admirers and speakers, including Pat Griffin, the society’s executive director who jokingly marvelled at her ability to persuade such showbiz heavy-hitters as Kiss and Snoop Dogg to sign hand-crafted soup bowls. The celebrity bowls are auctioned off each year. Donors who paid $50 apiece this year to dine on soup from the kitchens of the Fairmont Empress, Union Club, 10 Acres Bistro and Cheryl’s Gourmet Pantry, complemented by bread from Portofino Bakery, got to take home a soup bowl handcrafted by local artisans.

“It’s hard to say no to Helen,” Griffin told the capacity crowd. “You quickly realize that once Helen has an idea, her determination and commitment are a force to be reckoned with.”

Highlights include presentation of a commemorative plaque and a colourful, soup bowl-themed quilt and the news that the society’s drop-in centre at 533 Yates St. was being renamed Helen’s Place.

“I hadn’t been told about that,” Hughes said. “So it was a real ‘What?’ moment. Is this really happening?”

Michele Davis, the local tourism concierge chairing this year’s event, admitted she was filling big shoes.

“Helen has an amazing reputation in this city. Everybody knows her and wants to help her so it was a bit daunting,” Davis admitted. “I came around and they go ‘Who are you?’ ”

Organizers relocated the event downtown to be closer to the streets where the society’s clients are hanging out, she said.

“It’s a refresher,” said Davis amid a sea of volunteers wearing lime-green aprons. “We decided to give it a bit of a facelift.”

Giving her bowl of Salish Chowder a thumbs-up, supporter Sally McAuley said her daughter-in-law Christine McAuley invited her to come to the fundraiser with her.

“It’s such a good cause and I was told I’d get a good plate of soup and a bowl as well,” beamed Sally, whose lunch date got together with friends beforehand to create hand-crafted soup bowls to donate to the cause.

Christine’s pottery group included Marnie Hare, a friend and volunteer who was inspired after hearing stories about the society’s mission.

“Seeing children at risk on streets downtown and me being blessed with kids that aren’t on the street, I felt it was a good turn,” said Hare.

“Something could just happen and anybody could suddenly have a child on the street. I also love all the help for parents that YES provides.”

Board member and photographer Tessa Lloyd said she was inspired by the society’s longevity and abundance of services.

They include mental-health liaison, life skills, summer opportunities and youth services outreach programs, Kiwanis Emergency Youth Shelter, the daytime drop-in centre, a specialized youth detox centre, and the Alliance Club, its evening drop-in centre.

“I knew about this organization 25 years ago, and while many other non-profits have died an unnatural death, YES has continued to thrive and grow,” she said.

“It’s a very healthy organization and I love being involved with it, as it helps young people who might be at risk of their lives becoming unravelled.”

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