Soup wasn’t on the menu during Art Etc. on Saturday.
A day before the weekly instalment of the artistic expression and socialization program run out of Hope House was set to begin, volunteer cook Tobi Hooper unexpectedly passed away.
But it’s far more than her soup that will be missed, it’s the “radical acceptance” and more she offered to everyone who walked through the door.
“Tobi was just an unusually non-judgmental person. She wouldn’t care if you came in here driving a Porsche and wearing a suit, she would treat you the same as a person who was precariously housed and came in with no shoes,” said Art Etc. founder Angela Van Arragon. “She cared about all the people. … She was comfortable with everybody and she was respectful of everybody.”
Tobi served as the program’s cook since it began in 2017 and, prior to that she volunteered her culinary talents with the Out of Poverty Society, which shut down that same year.
She passed away Friday at hospital, surrounded by friends.
“She just really wanted to help people and was genuinely interested in people’ story. She would sit and she would talk with them, spend time, even if she was busy,” said Claire Hooper, one of Tobi’s two daughters, along with Madison. “She’d been in places where it’d been really rough for her and believed if you have time or resources, whatever you have, you’ve got to give it to other people.”
In addition to her daughters, Tobi leaves behind son-in-law Berkeley Johnson, along with two grandchildren – Malachi and Amari Johnson, ages 13 and six – as well as numerous grieving community members.
“She really pushed communities up and forward – it was a great trait of hers,” said Johnson, who’s married to Claire. “She loved all and treated everyone equally right across the board, regardless of your background, ethnicity or upbringing.”
Several Art Etc. participants were eager to talk about Tobi and express gratitude for the impact she had on their lives.
“She put a lot of love into her cooking and she put a lot of love into the community,” said Meghan Stamp. “We’re all still trying to process the fact she’s gone.”
“I’m going to really miss her, she was the best, best, best person I know,” added Marlene Mahony. “Tobi just made the room brighten up when she walked in and the food that she made was so delicious. Nobody ever went away from here hungry.”
Tobi made a large impact on the downtown community, noted Sarah C.
“She’ll be greatly missed … but she’ll still be around in spirit.”
Martha Inglis often takes her six-year-old grandson with her to Art Etc.
“She would always have a smile for him and always have something kind to say to him,” Inglis said. “We’re really sad. She was just an amazing woman – so kind and caring and respectful of others.”
Madison Hooper hopes her mom knew the impact she had on others and the love they had for her in return.
“She genuinely cared about the people she helped,” Madison said. “She felt it all. If someone she was helping was feeling down, then she took that and felt it personally.
“I believe (helping others) was her life’s work, it’s what she was meant to do.”
Tobi was well-known for taking whatever ingredients were available and turning them into delicious, nutritious and hearty meals for anyone who wanted them.
“She could cook the big pots of soup out of random things,” said Van Arragon, noting that while soup was Tobi’s specialty, she liked to mix things up with casserole or pasta meals as well.
“There were no recipes. She just made the soup with what was there.”
How will Art Etc. continue to provide prepared meals for those who attend?
“We’re going to figure it out,” Van Arragon said, noting several people have already expressed an interest in helping out. “I know that we can make this work.”