Linwood's sent a simple, unadulterated sweet-potato soup that evoked Moosewood-era cooking. Kelsey's Pub provided an Irish stew with big hunks of beef and a nice, oily glaze. Atwater's cooked up a vegetable soup with peanuts, just one from its repertoire of favorites. Nine other local establishment sent over signature soups to the late March afternoon benefit, held at Notre Dame Preparatory School in Towson, for Beans and Bread and Sarah's Hope, two outreach programs of St. Vincent de Paul.
This was just another, and exceedingly charming, variation on the Empty Bowls program, a widely admired template of sorts for fundraising benefits, conceived originally in 1990 by a Michigan high school and maintained now out of Burnsville, N.C. People make ceramic bowls, other people provide the food to be served in them, and guests get to take their bowls home. To carry the Empty Bowls name, funds raised must go to help feed the hungry.
The late afternoon time slot and $15 ticket allowed whole families to attend together. Volunteers ladled soup into foam cups; a quiet jazz trio from the Peabody Institute strummed in the corner; rows and rows of sweet little bowls lined up on tables for choosing, 100 alone made by Toby Rivkin's ceramics class at Roland Park Country School. Loyola professors Dale and Jim Snow, who recently debuted their course "You Are What You Eat: Food and the American Identity," superintended simmering pots in the kitchen.
It turned out not to be about the food--600 folks ate soup and were thankful for it, and the cookies, too. But there was, admirably, no disconnect between benefit and beneficiaries--no prizes, no foodie swoon, much less gluttony. And, at the end of the afternoon, $32,000 was raised for a well-run charitable organization.