Filling Bowls with Soup and Support

Photos by Jackie BODNAR
Alexandre Blaha and her mom Kim Blaha having a bowl of stone soup that Alexandre helped make.


Crescenta Valley United Methodist Church hosted its 11th annual Empty Bowls event on Saturday to support Friends in Deed, an organization that helps the homeless. Adults who attended the charity fundraiser paid $20 ($15 for kids) to receive a beautifully decorated handmade pottery bowl then fill it with soup.

Bread donated by Berolina Bakery.

Many local restaurants donated various soups and bread. Dish in La Cañada provided chicken noodle, hot and sour came from New Moon, Mexican rice was a favorite from Pepe’s, French onion was from Magpie’s Grill, albondigas was prepared by Joselito’s, cream of potato came from Hill Street, cream of potato with bacon provided by Zeke’s Smokehouse and chicken and barley soup offered by Gourmet a Go Go. Berolina Bakery donated a variety of breads to pair with the soups. In addition to the soups provided by local restaurants, church members and friends also provided soups. 

Jeanne Lavieri made a vegan minestrone soup and her friend Kay Sclementi made African spicy peanut soup. Gus Elvique cooked up a vegetarian spicy Thai soup. There was also a special “stone soup” created by the church’s preschool students and teachers from Montrose Preschool and Infant Care.

Stone soup is a traditional soup in which different ingredients are brought by various people, then mixed together. Stone soup is based on folklore about a group of hungry travelers who convinced local townspeople to share various ingredients for a soup they so could enjoy a meal together. Alexandre Blaha, a 3-year old in the Busy Bees preschool group, was happy to bring spinach for the stone soup. Another boy from the Busy Bees group proudly declared that he added broccoli to the stone soup.  There were also carrots, onions, cabbage, and a variety of other ingredients and seasonings resulting in a delicious concoction created by sharing.

Scout Brett Midgely and his dad, troop leader Andrew Midgely, washed the pottery soup bowls.

Lavieri started the Empty Bowls event at the United Methodist church 11 years ago.

“[Empty Bowls] started many years ago in the Midwest. People wanted to help others who were homeless and hungry, so they started the concept of filling ‘empty bowls.’ It is now a national concept and people can register events online,” Lavieri said. “Potters make bowls and people make the soup. I have been a member of this church for 25 years and I was looking for a way to help the community, so we did this event.”

Diane Lewis also helped organize the event this year.

“Empty Bowls is a wonderful activity for friends and family. It is a great bonding experience,” Lewis said. “Besides church members, the Scout troops also get involved. The pre-K [pre-kindergarten class] does the stone soup. We have friends who also make soup.

“There are about 10 restaurants that have been contributing soup or bread for many years. I must say that the restaurants are always happy to do it and it is wonderful that we can always depend on them.”

For entertainment, the church’s choir director played the keyboards; the church band also played. First Methodist in Glendale also loans pots or tureens for the soup and warming units are rented.

Lavieri credits Janice Berk with coming up with ideas on how to decorate. 

“Our theme this year is the space theme ‘Out of This World,’” she said. “Four Sundays in the summer we make and paint the soup bowls by hand. They are kiln-fired to harden the clay and set the glaze.”

Every bowl is handmade and unique. Even the children helped make and paint the pottery. Potters who helped lead the bowl-making included Lavieri, Richard Dickson, Nancy Koon, Anni Siegal and Melissa and Mike Mohammedloo. Crescenta Valley High School ceramics teacher Michael Flower and his students also helped by kiln-firing the bowls, along with the Creative Arts Group in Sierra Madre. 

“Jeanne is a potter and teaches ceramics and how to glaze a bowl,” said church member Cathy McElveen. “It is a lot of fun and a positive event for the community. I have helped out at the Empty Bowls event for seven years.” 

Jennifer Freemon, the current GUSD board president, attended the Empty Bowls event.

“This is one of my favorite events in the area and it speaks to my heart,” she said. “It is nice to see both the kid and adult volunteers. And the soup is really good, too!”   

There were around 30 volunteers on hand to keep things running smoothly. Some of the younger ones helped bus tables and wash and return the bowls after patrons were finished with their soup. Boy Scout troops also helped. Pack 302, Pack 515, and Troop 288
all had members and leaders who volunteered. Fifth grader Brett Midgely from Pack 302 has been in Cub Scouts since first grade and has helped at the Empty Bowls dinner for three years. He was enthusiastically helping wash the soup bowls. His identical twin Zachary also volunteered, as well as their dad, troop leader Andrew Midgely who is a church member and has been involved with bowl-making for many years. 

Fifth-grader Bella Castano also helped bus tables and wash and return the empty soup bowls. Bella is in Girl Scouts and Cub Scouts; she is in Pack 515 and is working on her Scout BSA Arrow of Light Award as well as her Girl Scout Bronze Award. 

“It is awesome to help out,” said Bella. “I have done it since I was little.”

Her mom, Becky Castano, was the overseer of the army of volunteers that helped make the event possible.

For those who missed Saturday’s event, bowls will be sold at the Nov. 9 holiday boutique benefitting Prom Plus. The boutique will be held from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. at Crescenta Valley Park, 3901 Dunsmore Ave. in La Crescenta.