- Associated Press - Wednesday, February 12, 2014

BLOOMINGTON, Ind. (AP) - On Nov. 15, 1994, the first Soup Bowl Benefit for the Hoosier Hills Food Bank took place in the basement of the St. Paul Catholic Center. A handful of local restaurants donated soup, and 16 potters contributed handmade bowls. Music was provided by Monkey Puzzle, Carrie Newcomer, Robert Meitus, and David and Licia Weber. The event netted about $4,000.

At 5 p.m. Sunday, the 20th annual Soup Bowl Benefit will unfold at the Bloomington Monroe County Convention Center. It will draw nearly 700 people, who will enjoy live musical performances and a smorgasbord of soups and bread from more than 50 local restaurants. After expenses, the event is expected to net a record $110,000 for the food bank, which distributed a record 3,699,658 pounds of food in 2013 to nonprofit agencies in six counties.

This year marks the 20th straight time the event has sold out, The Herald-Times reported (http://bit.ly/1j3sUHV ). It’s the food bank’s largest fundraiser of the year, representing 9 percent to 10 percent of the money the bank raises each year. Since its inception, it has raised more than $1 million, serving more than 4,000 gallons of soup and giving away 11,250 bowls in the process.

“It’s a magical event,” said Meitus, who co-founded the event along with his wife, Carrie Newcomer. “It’s not a formal affair where the attention is directed toward something happening on stage. It’s informal and friendly, like going to a soup kitchen with friends.”

Meitus said that while the mingling, music and food are all factors that draw people to the Soup Bowl, the event’s linchpin is the free hand-crafted soup bowl each attendee gets to take home.

“People love the fact that they get a homemade bowl to take home with them,” Meitus said. “Over the years, thousands of people have gotten these beautiful bowls, which they can use for cereal or soup or ice cream throughout the year.”

Julio Alonso, the food bank’s executive director and CEO, feels the Soup Bowl’s success stems from the unselfish support of local restaurants, artisans and musicians, combined with the community’s willingness to support the cause of fighting hunger.

“People really look forward to this event because of the food and music, but they also like taking home those beautiful homemade bowls that help them treasure the memory,” he said. “Some have told me they have a whole set of them in their cupboard that they use every day. Others display them. I have a dozen of them displayed above my desk.”

Alonso said one of the reasons this year’s Soup Bowl will set a new fundraising record is that the Hussman Foundation has awarded the food bank a $20,000 “hunger relief challenge grant,” half of which was used to attract new donations for the Soup Bowl Benefit. The food bank acquired $10,000 in new donations for the event, resulting in a $10,000 matching grant from the foundation.

Meitus said a 10-minute video highlighting the history of the Soup Bowl will be shown at the event. Among other things, it traces the Soup Bowl from its beginning at the St. Paul Catholic Center to the St. Mark’s United Methodist Church to Harmony School - to finally the convention center a decade ago. The event skipped one year, due to the timing being shifted to late winter.

“It makes me proud of this community for reaching down deep every year to support this event,” Meitus said. “It’s sad in a way that 20 years later, the need for the food bank is greater than ever. But thank God the community continues to be so supportive, and the food bank is still there to help those in need.”

At this year’s event, 43 restaurants will donate soups, and 11 will donate bread and cookies. The soups will include a chicken corn chowder from the Sweet Grass restaurant and a coconut and curry chicken vegetable soup with black-eyed peas by The Rail. There will be more than 225 gallons of meat, vegetarian and vegan soups; beer and wine will be provided by the Upland Brewing Co. and Oliver Winery.

Music will be provided by “Another Round,” ”The Monks and Brad Leftwich,” Newcomer, Malcolm Dalglish, Chris Parker and Philip Wailes. A limited edition of 75 posters created by Bloomington artist Kim Ransdell of The Collective Press will be available for a donation at the event.

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Information from: The Herald Times, http://www.heraldtimesonline.com