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Empty Bowls fundraiser takes a bite out of hunger

Meals on Wheels Plus of Manatee's annual event, which will be held Nov. 3, provides funds for The Food Bank of Manatee.

Lakewood Ranch's Carol Edwards serves soup during the 2022 Empty Bowls fundraiser that benefits Meals on Wheels Plus of Manatee.
Lakewood Ranch's Carol Edwards serves soup during the 2022 Empty Bowls fundraiser that benefits Meals on Wheels Plus of Manatee.
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Even blackened alligator soup has made its way into the lineup at the Empty Bowls fundraiser.

Maribeth Phillips was trying to remember the most unusual soup served at Empty Bowls. She only had to go back to last year, though, when Mean Deans Local Kitchen donated the alligator delicacy.

Phillips is the CEO and president of Meals on Wheels Plus of Manatee, which puts on the annual Empty Bowls event to raise funds for its Food Bank of Manatee program.

The event, which returns to Main Street at Lakewood Ranch on Friday, Nov. 3, provides patrons with a hand-painted bowl, and soup and bread that is donated by area restaurants.

Phillips noted the event is entering its 23rd year in 2023, and she only has been part of the event since 2009 when she joined the Meals on Wheels Plus board. So if another soup in the first years of the event trumped blackened alligator for most unusual, she wouldn't know.

However, over the years, she has developed a few favorites herself, such as the blue cheese tomato soup and the lemon chicken soup. The lemon chicken soup from Popi's Place always is one of the first to sell out. Clam chowder always is one of the event favorites as well. Want fancy? Try some lobster and truffle bisque. Into the season? How about butternut-pumpkin bisque?

With 17 restaurants donating 5 gallons of soup each for the Nov. 3 event, Phillips and those who attend might just find a new favorite this year, or something completely different.

Phillips said the delicious soups are just part of the fun as the patrons have taken particular delight over the years in finding just the right bowl. Among those donating bowls are the Lakewood Ranch High ceramics students, State College of Florida, crafter Terrie McNamera, Art Center Manatee, the Florida West Coast Woodworkers Club, and the Cascades of Sarasota Clay Club.

It is a recipe for success that always has worked, so Meals on Wheels Plus of Manatee has made few changes to the fundraiser over the years.

Meals on Wheels Plus of Manatee did try holding the event on a Saturday once with kids activities, such as a bounce house. Phillips said area kids had so many commitments on a Saturday that they couldn't come. That idea was scrapped.

During COVID-19, the Lakewood Ranch Empty Bowls event was run as a drive-through to make things safer for everyone involved.

This year will offer a significant change in scheduling as the event will be held to one day — in Lakewood Ranch. In the past the event has been held over two consecutive days with one in Bradenton and the second in Lakewood Ranch.

Phillips said after COVID, it has been challenging to get restaurants to make a commitment to donate soup for two events.

However, 560 bowls have been collected for the Lakewood Ranch event alone.

"People love this event and they love getting the bowls," Phillips said. 'And they buy into it supplying the Food Bank of Manatee."



Jay Heater

Jay Heater is the managing editor of the East County Observer. Overall, he has been in the business more than 41 years, 26 spent at the Contra Costa Times in the San Francisco Bay area as a sportswriter covering college football and basketball, boxing and horse racing.

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