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February 05. 2013 9:00PM

Bottomless acts of charity in Nashua soup kitchen's Empty Bowls fundraiser

NASHUA -- IN SPITE OF the event's name, empty bowls won't be the theme of the night at the 18th annual fundraiser for the Greater Nashua Soup Kitchen and Shelter.

"It's a big deal," said Robin Perringer, an art teacher at Nashua High who has organized Empty Bowls since its inception in 1995. "A lot of times (the soup kitchen) prevents people from becoming homeless."

At Empty Bowls, attendees begin by picking a handmade bowl they will eat from and take home. They then choose from dozens of soup options and fresh bread before settling in for a community feast.

Perringer, the school district's visual arts coordinator who oversees the district's 28 art teachers, said that the soup kitchen often allows people to pay rent when they have to make the tough decision between that and buying food. She added that this time of year is difficult because people tend to donate around the holidays and not so much in between.

"This is really a time of year when (the soup kitchen) had no food for folks," she said.

The fundraiser has yielded around $10,000 for the soup kitchen in previous years. This year guests are asked to bring canned goods for the high school's Panther Pantry.

The event calls on some 40 local restaurants and businesses to donate goods and services to the effort. Participating restaurants run the gamut of the area's fare, from taverns and bakeries to some of the finest cuisine Main Street has to offer.

Restaurants include Crosby Bakery, the City Room, Alpine Grove, Villa Banca, Cooking Matters, Great Harvest Bread Company, Pine Street Eatery, North Star Café and Rustic Leaf.

Perringer said the Common Man in Merrimack has pledged to donate its lobster corn chowder, an item she qualified as one of her favorite soups. There will also be an Italian sausage soup, though most of the options won't be made public until the day of the event.

Empty Bowls began in Michigan and has since expanded across the country. According to the organization's website, the Empty Bowls Project is an international grassroots effort to raise both money and awareness in the fight to end hunger.

Beginning even before Empty Bowls takes place, Nashua art students work on the clay bowls in anticipation of the next year's event. The crafting of 600 bowls-one for each attendee-takes students the entire year.

The school's jazz band will also be on hand to provide a musical backdrop to the meal.

The event is scheduled for Feb. 20, from 6 to 8 p.m. at the Nashua High School South cafeteria. Tickets are $13 and in limited supply. They are available at the soup kitchen or at the high school's main office.

Perringer stressed the importance of getting tickets in advance, as the event sells out every year. In case of bad weather, Empty Bowls will take place the following night at the same time.

Volunteers are never in short supply at the event, and attendees are so eager that they often show up hours before doors open.

"People will show up around 4 o'clock that afternoon," Perringer said. "People will show up and pick a bowl and get in line because they want to be the first person to pick the bowl that's calling their name."

srios@newstote.com

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