FARMINGTON — The Food Court at Mt. Blue Campus was abuzz with music and activity Friday evening, April 26 for the inaugural Empty Bowls-Nourished Hearts fundraiser. While the event was the brainchild of Mt. Blue High School art teacher Pam Chernesky, it took an entire community to pull it off.

“I’ve known about Empty Bowl suppers for a while,” she said. “At last summer’s Maine Arts Leadership Initiative retreat, I decided to make this my project with all funds raised used to fight food insecurity in our towns.”

Over the last several months, Chernesky has solicited the time and skills of students, staff, community members, friends, and family to make colorful pottery bowls for the event.

“We ended up with 225 bowls,” she said.

Mt. Blue High School students Emily Willett, at left, Caitlyn Zamboni, Hope Chernesky, Lauryn Walston and Molly Gurney entertain Empty Bowl-Nourished Hearts patrons Friday, April 26 at Mt. Blue Campus. Franklin Journal photo by Dee Menear

As people filed through the front doors Friday night, they were greeted by high school students performing musical numbers. Emily Willett, Caitlyn Zamboni, Hope Chernesky, Lauryn Walston and Molly Gurney said they were not part of an established school quintet but they did encourage people to plan to attend the upcoming musical “The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee”. Several of the musicians are starring in the play. The musical will be held at Bjorn Auditorium on May 9, 10 and 11 at 7 p.m.

In another area, students Merry Parker and Kayla Jamison demonstrated how to throw a bowl on a pottery wheel. Students in service organizations assisted with prep work, serving and cleanup.

Mt. Blue High School students Merry Parker at left and Kayla Jamison demonstrate pottery making Friday, April 26 at Mt. Blue High School’s Empty Bowls – Nourished Hearts fundraiser. Franklin Journal photo by Dee Menear

Those attending the fundraiser could choose a bowl, by donation, and then sample the many vegan, vegetarian, and meaty soups.

Jacob Mealey of Farmington picked a green and blue bowl that had bits of red flecks under the glaze. “I’m not sure if the red was on purpose or not but I like it,” he said. “The colors are good and it is pleasing to look at.”

The soups were all prepared and donated by school staff, Chernesky said. Offerings included split pea, carrot ginger, Hungarian mushroom, lentil, hamburger, meatball, and sweet potato with Italian sausage.

Diners were encouraged to taste as many as wanted, she added.

Students in the Foster Career and Technical Education Center culinary arts program, under the direction of Sean Minear, made and provided desserts. Employability Skills students, led by Kyle Minear, supplied rolls.

Staff and community quilters created soup bowl cozies in a variety of colors and sizes, which were also available by donation.

“Everyone has been so supportive,” Chernesky said.

Following the event, she said every bowl was sold and more than $1,800 was raised.

Funds will be distributed to food pantries throughout the greater Franklin County area through the United Way of the Tri-Valley Area’s Pantry Project, said UVTVA Executive Director Lisa Laflin.

“The purpose of the meal is to bring about awareness of food insecurity in our area and to use the power of the arts to make connections and give back to the community,” said Chernesky. “At the end of the meal, the empty bowls went home with diners as a reminder that there are always empty bowls in our communities.

“This first Empty Bowls dinner was an extraordinary event that brought together our MBC students, staff, and the community. The turnout and generosity were so overwhelming, far and above what we anticipated, unfortunately resulting in a shortage of soup. We promise to have plenty of soup next year. I feel blessed to be part of such a giving and supportive community.”

Jacob Mealey of Farmington fills his empty bowl with corn chowder Friday, April 26 during the Empty Bowls – Nourished Hearts fundraiser at Mt. Blue Campus. Franklin Journal photo by Dee Menear

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