Farewell to a local icon, Canberra’s ‘Soup Lady’ Stasia Dabrowski

Genevieve Jacobs 26 August 2020 53
Stasia Dabrowski's portrait

Stasia Dabrowski’s portrait, painted by Canberra artist Jenny Blake. Image: Jenny Blake.

Stasia Dabrowski, known to generations of Canberrans as The Soup Lady, has died at the age of 94. She spent decades serving homemade soup from her corner in Garema Place to all comers, whatever their needs.

She’d run the weekly soup kitchen since 1979, continuing with dogged determination well past retirement age and earning a debt of gratitude from many for whom she epitomised kindness.

Stasia greeted everyone who approached her with generosity and without question, including those who were struggling, and even when her help was met with aggression.

In 1996, she was named Canberra Citizen of the Year, in 1999 ACT Senior Australian of the Year and in 2017 ACT Local Hero of the Year. She was also made an OAM in recognition of her contribution to the needy. A plaque bearing her name was installed on the ACT’s Honour Walk in 2005.

Chief Minister Andrew Barr has paid tribute to Stasia, telling Region Media “I was saddened to hear of Stasia Dabrowski’s passing.

“Stasia made a significant and sustained contribution over almost four decades to helping Canberrans in need through her Soup Kitchen in Garema Place. She gave so much of her life to this city she called home.

“Stasia will always be remembered as part of Canberra’s rich fabric, and her legacy will continue through her friends, family and supporters”.

Stasia Dabrowski

Stasia Dabrowski was honoured by the ACT for her contributions. Photo: ACT Community Services.

It was a long journey from Stasia’s childhood in Poland, where she was born in 1926 near the Czechoslovakian border. Before the start of World War II, her family fled Ukrainian ethnic cleansing, then faced subsequent Nazi and Communist invasions.

They lost everything and suffered significant privations, often living without running water, heating or enough food. But beyond the hardship, Stasia remembered a warm and supportive family and the importance of that for survival.

Stasia eventually arrived in Canberra in 1964 with her husband and young family, although her struggles continued after the marriage broke down and her family faced multiple personal challenges.

She began helping others after a conversation with her teenage son about homeless people here in Canberra reminded her about the experiences she’d endured during the war years. Helping others gave her a purpose in life and a way to give back to Canberra.

“No pen could write what I saw in my life,” she said in a 1992 interview with The Canberra Times. “When I see a person who is hungry today I couldn’t go without doing something about it.”

For many years, Stasia rose at 5:00 am and drive her van around Canberra, collecting donated food from companies, then distributed it. Fridays were soup days, and Stasia spent Thursday nights peeling and cooking 180 kilograms of vegetables. She often served 100 people or more with soup and funded the venture at her own expense.

Canberra responded with equal warmth.

In 2017, Stasia wrote off her food van while making deliveries – at the age of 91 – and within days close to $35,000 had been raised for a replacement van via a GoFundMe crowd-funding campaign.

Organisers were then approached by someone who wanted to donate a van, meaning all of the money raised could go towards upgrading the soup kitchen and helping the needy.

ACT Attorney-General Gordon Ramsay, who for many years ran the Uniting Church’s Kippax Centre, said: “We have many people across our community who are dedicated to improving the lives of those doing it tough. That’s one of the things that makes Canberra the strong society that it is.

“Stasia Dabrowski was an outstanding example of that. For many years she put her own time, her own resources into supporting people. Although she never sought acknowledgement and was uncomfortable with it when it came, she was recognised for her dedication.

“We are in her debt and will miss her”.

Canberra artist Jenny Blake, who painted Stasia’s portrait, recalls her as “a hardworking, feisty delight.

“She was of small stature but had a giant personality”, Jenny told Region Media. “Stasia’s generosity inspired me to paint her portrait. She was so humble and wondered why anyone would want to paint her.

“We have lost a hard-working big-hearted women who dedicated her life to helping others”.

The soup kitchen now operates from the Griffin Centre, in compliance with food safety regulations. It’s now operated by her grandson Josh Kenworthy, a plumber by trade, who continues to self fund its operations and will honour her legacy.

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53 Responses to Farewell to a local icon, Canberra’s ‘Soup Lady’ Stasia Dabrowski
Milena Cifali Milena Cifali 10:40 pm 01 Sep 20

Stasia was a part of the soul of Canberra. A statue in Garema Place would indeed be a fitting tribute or perhaps even a mural. She was one of those rare souls that was always able to turn adversity into something positive. RIP Stasia Canberra will never forget you. ???

Bernadette Wilson Bernadette Wilson 12:41 pm 31 Aug 20

RIP. The most wonderful,selfless and compassionate woman who made the World a better place. 💖

chompers chompers 10:12 am 29 Aug 20

Wonderful lady. An inspiration to all. Yes a statue in Garema Place.

mark boast mark boast 10:49 am 28 Aug 20

Excellent subject for a statue in Garema Place? It would be a great recognition of the inspiration she bought to Canberra.

Lisa Walden Lisa Walden 9:09 pm 27 Aug 20

I remember her serving soup in civic to those less fortunate. What a wonderful human being. The world could do with more selfless Stasia’s. Rest In Peace beautiful lady.

junkett junkett 6:22 pm 27 Aug 20

As a nameless shift worker moving around in the early or late hours, I often saw this wonderful lady providing her service well before some of the more well known charities came along. In their defence, back in the day Canberra “never had” a homeless problem. Vale Stasia Dabrowski, and well done to Josh for continuing her legacy.

Jacqui Read Jacqui Read 9:27 am 27 Aug 20

What a wonderful human. RIP ❣️

Eve Cullen Eve Cullen 9:42 pm 26 Aug 20

Vale , and thank you 🙏

Ash Pagett Ash Pagett 9:41 pm 26 Aug 20

Amazing lady. Saw her frequently collecting unsold bread and veggies for her mobile soup kitchen

Michael Rabey Michael Rabey 9:35 pm 26 Aug 20

Wonderful lady always had positive things to say.

Claire Majella Claire Majella 9:21 pm 26 Aug 20

Wondering if anyone can confirm if this was the same woman who would give leftover bread and other bakery products outside Building 5 of Canberra hospital? She would politely ignore all hospital staff and security who tried to move her on, and would urge all the patients to take the bread.

I just have strong feeling it’s the same woman. She did drive a van, and liked to talk about her son and grandson if you had a moment to chat.

Vicki Herbert Vicki Herbert 9:04 pm 26 Aug 20

Farewell beautiful lady ❤

Doug Barton Doug Barton 8:51 pm 26 Aug 20

Put Natural gas on her hse 30yrs ago, fed me & 2 wkmates, amazing stories xo❤️

Therese van Leeuwen Therese van Leeuwen 7:59 pm 26 Aug 20

She was a fiesty lady and full of love. RIP 💖💖💖

Karen Brown Karen Brown 7:52 pm 26 Aug 20

Amazing and generous lady

Anne Atherton Anne Atherton 7:36 pm 26 Aug 20

Beautiful soul

TrishnBill Palmer TrishnBill Palmer 7:22 pm 26 Aug 20

A truely amazing lady who blessed many.

Yvonne Scherger Yvonne Scherger 6:48 pm 26 Aug 20

I will miss her many Friday nights when back in the 80s she would give me some soup and bread when I had no money she gave me soup and always a big hug may she rest in peace heaven has got a new angel

Jen Fowler Jen Fowler 6:15 pm 26 Aug 20

What a wonderful woman. Her contribution was massive. She was often seen in her van on her way to give to others.

Narelle Fox Narelle Fox 5:38 pm 26 Aug 20

Hope a murual of her face is painted o covoc somewhere

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