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Empty Bowls returns to Santa Maria after 3 years

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Chef Russell Thomas serving up soup
Students preparing the pozole
Posted at 5:05 AM, Oct 26, 2022

The Foodbank of Santa Barbara County, local restaurants, and even students are gearing up for the first Empty Bowls fundraiser to happen in Santa Maria in more than three years.

Wednesday's event takes place at the Santa Maria Fairpark from 11 a.m. until 2 p.m. Tickets are $25 each and can be purchased onlineor at the door.

KSBY spoke with Foodbank Senior Development Manager Laurel Alcantar, who said inflation is causing more people to seek help from the nonprofit.

“It’s really had an impact on the families that we serve and our community at large. The food bank typically serves one in four people in the community, so they just need our help, even more this year,” she said.

The Foodbank relies on donations and fundraisers like Empty Bowls to keep serving the community. Alcantar added that the goal for this event is to raise at least $40,000.

There will be 21 different soups from over twenty donor restaurants and organizations. However, on Wednesday, more than just food is being donated.

"We have students and different organizations within the community who make bowls for us for the event. So these are handcrafted or hand-painted artisan bowls. So guests to the event can come and they can pick a bowl that suits them," Alcantar added.

Two of the soups are cooked by local high school students in Santa Maria in the kitchen at Mark Richardson Career Technical Education Center and Agriculture Farm.

Santa Maria High School senior Jose Hernandez said: “It feels like just got home. Just cooking with my mom kind of.”

Hernandez added that everyone in his family cooks, and eventually, he wants to own either a restaurant or a catering business.

He is one of over 70 Santa Maria Joint Union High School Culinary Arts students, taking part in the technical pathways program known as CTE.

“A lot of people that I know actually benefit from the food bank and food banks are really helpful for a lot of people who are less fortunate in this community. And it's a good way to put food together and to spread it around because nobody deserves to go hungry,” Hernandez said.

Led by the teacher and chef Russell Thomas, students have been working hard preparing two kinds of pozole for the Empty Bowls event.

“The kids are going to make the soup taste a lot better just because their hands are in absolutely every step and ingredient. The whole process is about them. And I'm just guiding. But they're running with it,” explained Thomas.

This is the first year of the Culinary Arts program and by the end of the year, the students from schools throughout the district will have a portfolio from the program as well.