Filling your belly with a warm bowl of soup can help fill other bellies too at the Empty Bowls annual fundraiser, created to help eliminate hunger and homelessness in the state.
The 11th Empty Bowls is a team effort from Brookside Congregational Church and the New Hampshire Potter’s Guild to benefit New Horizons for New Hampshire. This year the fundraiser is on Sunday, Sept. 29, at Brookside Congregational Church in Manchester.
“Those two organizations decided 11 years ago they wanted to bring this to New Horizons for New Hampshire,” New Horizons for New Hampshire Executive Director Charlie Sherman said. “It’s been a great partnership ever since.”
Diners slurp soup samples out of handmade crocks donated by the New Hampshire Potter’s Guild.
“People enjoy the fact that it’s a unique kind of event. I don’t know of any other events like this that take place, certainly not in the greater Manchester area anyway,” Sherman said. “People go from restaurant to restaurant.”
Sixteen restaurants and two culinary programs will be serving up a soup selected just for the event. Sherman said each restaurant prepares a different kind of soup, from minestrone and chicken noodle to chowders and chilis.
“It’s not really a competition thing because we ask each restaurant to make sure no two restaurants are doing the same soup,” Sherman said. “Many people will judge themselves, but we don’t take a vote or anything.”
The restaurant lineup this year includes Airport Diner, Angela’s Pasta and Cheese Shop, Bertucci’s, Cactus Jack’s, Cotton, Ignite, Fratello’s, Jerome’s Deli, Milly’s Tavern, the Ninety Nine Restaurant, Outback Steakhouse, Piccola Italia Ristorante, the Puritan Backroom, Red Arrow, Suddenly Susan’s Gourmet Deli, Tinker’s Seafood and the culinary programs from Manchester School of Technology and Southern New Hampshire University.
“It’s a real kind of cross section,” Sherman said. “We get people who come every year [whose] goal is to try every single one of the soups offered.”
The bowls have been handcrafted by local artists year round for the annual event, and Sherman said it’s a real draw for many attendees. The admission fee includes the soup sampling and the bowls so guests can take them home.
“A big highlight of the day is people coming and selecting their own bowls, because the bowls are really unique,” Sherman said. “New Hampshire Potters Guild members work on them all year. ... Some people will come buy four or five of them and they use them for Christmas gifts. … It’s really unique. The first year I went to it ... I saw just how magnificent some of these bowls are and the time and the effort people put into making and painting them. There were no two that were alike.”
The event raises about $9,000 for the New Horizons for New Hampshire soup kitchen, pantry and other services in downtown Manchester. The program has no cost for New Horizons, Sherman said. The space, soups and handcrafted bowls are donated, and volunteers help set up. Others volunteer to ladle the soup out to guests. Sherman said although they won’t be cooking the soup, the New Horizons cooks will be there serving as well.
Sherman said that there’s a real need now in southern New Hampshire. New Horizons for New Hampshire receives a lot of its food from the New Hampshire Food Bank, and since the Shaw’s and Stop and Shop supermarkets closed, food donations from the food bank have plummeted. The supermarkets regularly donated items and financial support to local nonprofits and services, like the food bank and New Horizons. Now, Sherman said many of the former employees are coming to New Horizons for services.
“Like the food bank, we’re really hurting in food donations. … We’re down 30 percent,” Sherman said. “I’m not sure if it’s the supermarkets closing or if because things are tight with people. I’ve never seen it like this. … There’s never been a time when food donations have been down so much.”
Aside from fundraiser programs like Empty Bowls, people can help New Horizons by volunteering or making cash donations so the nonprofit can purchase wholesale food product. Businesses and organizations can hold food drives as well.
“We’re always looking for volunteers, especially with the holidays coming,” he said.
Many families from the church make it downstairs after the Sunday service for the event, and the line quickly forms at 11:30 a.m. on Sunday, Sherman said. Guests can select their own bowl and sample soups from all 18 restaurants until 1:30 p.m. Toward the end of the event, they start selling whatever is left of the soups in quarts to-go, but Sherman said they have never run out of bowls or soup.
“So many events — and we’re as guilty as any other charity — do all the same things; you do a walk, auction, golf tournament. But this is different,” Sherman said. “It really brings three neat organizations together.”