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Empty Bowls Fundraiser
Simon Vaz poses with his “souper” team (left to right): Christian Lucas, Taylor Creech, and Michael Wittenberg

Every day, one in six Central Floridians wonders whether food will grace his or her dining table that day. In Lake County, some 45,120 Lake County residents wonder just how they’ll curb their too often rumbling bellies.

That troubled Simon Vaz. He knew he couldn’t solve the dilemma alone. Yet, by dishing up hearty helpings of chicken noodle soup, Vaz reckoned he could help bring awareness to the hunger that ails too many neighbors of Beacon College in Leesburg, Fla.

Thus, Vaz, an assistant professor of business and technology at Beacon College, rounded up some volunteer troops, whipped up five gallons of chicken noodle soup, and joined a battalion of restaurants serving bisque, broth and chowder Thursday night at Wooten Park in Tavares during the “Empty Bowls” fundraiser staged by Lake Cares Food Pantry.

The soup-off followed the fundraising concept that married art teachers John Hartom and Lisa Blackburn launched in the 1990s. The idea: use the nourishing power of soup to feed awareness of hunger and other issues — a strategy to stoke engagement and energize civic action.

“Hunger can be a disaster year round,” Irene O’Malley, executive director of Lake Cares, an independent community food pantry based in Mount Dora, Fla. said in press release. “Add to that the disruption and devastation caused by hurricanes Irma and Maria and that is a recipe for disaster for many Lake County families. Lake Cares has also experienced growth [in clients served] because of these events and the fact that food insecurity is so great.”

Simon Vaz The U.S. Department of Agriculture defines “food insecurity” as the “lack of access, at times, to enough food for an active, healthy life for all household members and limited or uncertain availability of nutritionally adequate foods,” notes Feeding America. The national advocacy group fights hunger through a nationwide network of member food banks.

While a solo musician serenaded the crowd with his take on classic hits, soup-seekers — armed with tickets to sample two soups — scoped out the offerings that included an Irish chowder, tomato bisque, and a spicy lentil soup.

Vaz, an effective salesman, lured guests to the Beacon table staffed by Taylor Creech, a senior majoring in business management, Christian Lucas a junior majoring in hospitality management, and Michael Wittenberg, a senior also majoring in hospitality management, to sample his world-famous chicken soup “with a twist.” Students also pitched in helping over vendors move tables and chairs.

Vaz’s recipe didn’t win the event’s “People’s Choice” award. Still, his robust, flavorful stock won the hearts of many who understood that chicken soup is good for the soul — and the tummy.