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Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people should be aware that this website contains names, images, and voices of deceased persons.

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Dabrowski, Stanislawa (Stasia) (1926–2020)

by Amy Martin

Stasia Dabrowski, n.d.

Stasia Dabrowski, n.d.

There are few words that do Stasia Dabrowski justice.

The woman affectionately known as Canberra's Soup Kitchen Lady became an icon for running a weekly mobile soup kitchen in Civic since 1979.

It's an incredible gesture of charity that will be remembered in light of her death earlier this month.

For almost four decades, Ms Dabrowski, 94, was a permanent fixture in Garema Place on a Friday and a line of people would be waiting for some of her homemade soup.

Even well into her 90s, Ms Dabrowski would peel and cook 180 kilograms of vegetables on a Thursday night to serve up the next day to upwards of 100 people.

Her thick Polish accent and no-nonsense attitude became well-known to those who lined up. Some were well-dressed professionals, others had seen better days, but it didn't matter who it was, she greeted everyone with the same kindness.

"There's no one like her," said Josh Kenworthy, her grandson and right-hand man at the soup kitchen for 22 years.

"She could get punched in the face when she was running the soup kitchen and abused and she'd still love everybody. She's just someone who cares and loves absolutely everybody."

But Ms Dabrowski had a tough life.

She was born in a Polish village, close to the then Czechoslovakian border in 1926. Before the start of World War II, she and her family had to flee the Ukrainian fascists' ethnic cleansing campaign.

And when World War II broke out — and Ms Dabrowski was just 14 — the Nazis and communists took turns in dismantling her country. There was no running water, wood or gas for heating or food to eat.

Despite all of this hardship, she told The Canberra Times in 1992 that she clearly remembered her warm family upbringing and what it meant to have a family to love and care for her.

"No pen could write what I saw in my life," she said.

"When I see a person who is hungry today I couldn't go without doing something about it."

Ms Dabrowski immigrated to Australia with her nuclear scientist husband in 1964. It was after this that her husband left her.

"At that stage, the kids were still fairly young and they started to turn to drugs and because of this she was finding people on the street that needed help," Mr Kenworthy said.

"She always wanted to help people and when the husband left her, she felt she didn't have a purpose in life. She's probably lived a more stressed life than anyone I've ever known. She turned to helping people and that's all she wanted to do."

In the years since, Ms Dabrowski has carried the Olympic torch, been awarded the 1996 Canberra Citizen of the Year, the 1999 ACT Senior Australian of the Year and the 2017 ACT Local Hero of the Year. She has even inspired a song by Rafe Morris called Soup Kitchen Lady and her likeness was captured in a 2017 artwork by Jenny Blake.

Still, she remained incredibly humble about the work she was doing and the impact it was having of the Canberra community.

When she was presented with Blake's artwork — which the artist created after she was asked to paint a local who inspired her — she downplayed the gift.

"I never keep photos because I am not proud ... the soup kitchen is a simple thing, people cooking veggies, nothing special," Ms Dabrowski said.

"And this is why I don't mind no attention or anything. I am the servant of poor people, I am nothing."

Her grandson says her humility came from the fact that she was such a strong person.

Mr Kenworthy is intent on keeping his grandmother's legacy alive, taking over her soup kitchen in recent times. He has since had to move it to Griffin Centre, due to food safety regulations, and runs it off of his own dime — just like his grandmother did in the early years.

"No matter what, I want to continue on the legacy."

Original publication

Additional Resources

  • profile, Canberra Times, 5 July 1992, p 18

Citation details

Amy Martin, 'Dabrowski, Stanislawa (Stasia) (1926–2020)', Obituaries Australia, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, https://oa.anu.edu.au/obituary/dabrowski-stanislawa-stasia-30879/text38240, accessed 3 July 2022.

© Copyright Obituaries Australia, 2010-2022

Stasia Dabrowski, n.d.

Stasia Dabrowski, n.d.