Empty Bowls raise awareness of hunger in Schenectady

Second annual event seeks to raise money, awareness about poverty in our midst
Chef Aaron Striker, 6, of Ballston Lake, serves his tomato cucumber soup for patrons during the Empty Bowls fundraiser.
Chef Aaron Striker, 6, of Ballston Lake, serves his tomato cucumber soup for patrons during the Empty Bowls fundraiser.

Categories: News, Schenectady County

As soup enthusiasts convened on Sunday at the DoubleTree Hotel in Schenectady they were asked to remember one fact — that for many Schenectady residents living in poverty, a bowl of soup might be their meal for the day.

The Schenectady Community Ministries hosted its second annual Empty Bowls event at the hotel on Sunday, an event which raised money for the SiCM food programs, specifically, the organization’s food pantry.

Empty Bowls Project is an annual event held at sites across the country that aims to benefit hunger relief programs. 

As people sat at tables eating their one bowl of soup, others meandered around the event hall to participate in a soup contest in which the top three of the 14 soups would be crowned the day’s champions. The program also included a ticket-based raffle drawing. One purchased ticket would provide four meals to the food pantry.

Food Program Director Shelly Ford said on Sunday that this year’s event had already surpassed last year’s in terms of turn out and the number of participating contestants. 

However much participants enjoyed the soup though, Ford said, it was crucial to remember that, for so many in the area, a bowl of soup serves primarily as a mean of survival.

“There are many families, even at our food pantry, for whom soup is a meal. Some of them are eating just soup. Some of them are eating that peanut butter and jelly sandwich with maybe a glass of milk, so it’s really relevant for us to participate in a fundraiser of this sort. This is somebody’s meal,” Ford said.

Efforts like the Empty Bowls campaign are important because they familiarize people with what may be going on in their communities outside the walls of their homes and often convince people to become more involved with local charitable efforts.

It is crucial, she added, to teach people that food insecurity and hunger is not a taboo issue. Just a small donation to SiCM goes a long way to replenishing the pantry’s shelves, Ford said.

“I do believe that we are in a different type of year in our communities, and our government, and I believe people are really being pulled at their heartstrings to really help their neighbor,” Ford said. “I think this is a really good scene where people are not just hearing about their neighbors, but they are actually helping their neighbors by attending these many fundraisers that are going on. Every penny counts.”

The resumes and ages of chefs who had prepared soup varied greatly.

First-time participant six-year-old Aaron Striker, of Ballston Lake, had prepared a tomato cucumber soup. Sporting a white chef’s hat and apron, Aaron explained that the recipe was his own as he ladled soup into paper cups for people to try.

“It’s my favorite soup,” Striker said.

Marissa Phelps and her mother, Michelle Phelps, were also first-time participants. The two women, from Rotterdam, were serving an Italian Orzo spinach soup.

The soup was a  recipe Michelle Phelps had learned from her sister in Arizona.

“It’s homemade,” Michelle Phelps said on Sunday, noting that the fresh shredded parmesan cheese the duo was also handing out was crucial to the enjoyment of the soup.

Marissa Phelps added that the soup was very easy to make, and could be done in 20 minutes. As a first-year participant, she was enjoying the chance to speak with other soup chefs while also having the opportunity to play a roll in curbing local hunger issues.

“We’re having so much fun. It’s for a great cause, and you get to see people and trade recipes. I mean, what a great way to spend a Sunday,” Marissa Phelps said.

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