Good Cheer fills empty bowls, stomachs at Empty Soup Bowl Night

Bowl by bowl, loaf by loaf, Good Cheer worked to make sure nobody on the South End went to sleep hungry on Sunday.

The food bank’s fifth annual Empty Bowl Soup Night completely filled Fellowship Hall in Langley United Methodist Church with a large host of community members either looking to donate funds to Good Cheer or grab a free bite to eat. The event was a blend of a fundraiser and community meal, where diners had the choice to donate to Good Cheer by paying for the volunteer-made soup bowls or simply feed themselves for the day.

Tables were fully stocked and some even had to stand while eating, but there were few complaints; most seem to wear warm grins on their faces. Organizers said attendance was a record high.

“It’s fun to serve food and it’s fine with me if I don’t know who I’m helping out,” volunteer Larry Johnson from Freeland said. “If I don’t do my part to help out the community, how can I tell my kids to do the same?”

The bowls were made by volunteers who crafted them at Whidbey Art Escape in Freeland. Owner Tina Beard donated the materials and equipment without cost, and invited community members to make pottery for the Empty Soup Bowl Night during the summer. As soon as diners arrived at the fundraiser on Sunday, they had the option to purchase a bowl for $20 or a mug for $5. Those who came in to eat a free meal, some homeless or living on low incomes, didn’t have to pay to eat.

“It was pretty exciting to see there was only standing room for a while,” Beard said. “We usually make about 100 bowls, but this year we did a little over 150. There were only about 10 bowls left by the end, and some people donated the bowls back because they just wanted to help fundraise.”

Numerous sources pitched in to supply the soup for the evening. Eleven different soups ranging from hearty to vegan were on deck, with five of those options donated by The Braeburn, Prima Bistro, Useless Bay Coffee Company, Neil’s Clover Patch and Gordon’s on Blueberry Hill. The rest were made by volunteers in Good Cheer’s commercial kitchen.

The funds raised at the event will go toward the Good Cheer Food Bank’s general operation costs for the winter. But for Good Cheer’s Community Outreach Coordinator Shawn Nowlin, the soup feed is more about reminding people of South Whidbey’s strong sense of community.

“In the bigger scope of things it’s a nice fundraiser, but it’s more of a gratitude fundraiser,” Nowlin said. “It’s more about reminding people how much they support their neighbors when the winter sets in and that it gets more difficult for our clients.”