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High School Students Cook Up Delicious Fundraiser for Food Bank

by on April 17, 2015 10:40 AM

It was organized chaos inside the Chatter’s Café kitchen in the State College Area High School on Thursday night.

Gallons of soup simmered in huge pots over open flames, their spices creating a savory aroma that hung in the air. Students decked in chef’s attire madly darted to and fro in perfect sync, assembling salads or pulling fresh-baked bread from ovens.

Just outside the door, community members sat at tables draped in black cloth and eagerly waited for their hand-crafted ceramic bowls to be filled with one of four delectable concoctions: broccoli and cheddar soup, Hungarian beef goulash, seafood bouillabaisse or Thai red curry with chicken.

“This is called Empty Bowls; it’s a fundraiser to raise money for families in our area who can’t afford enough food on their own,” says culinary arts student Leah Wedlake, who helped prep and serve the soups. “The bowls were made by ceramics students, and the money goes to the State College Food Bank." 

Fellow culinary arts student Theo Mason says he and his classmates began preparing for the event last week, working hard to prepare a total of 40 gallons of soup. While he had made the traditional broccoli and cheddar soup before, Mason picked up some new skills while learning to make the curry and the bouillabaisse.

“I love cooking, so I’m game for anything new,” Mason says. “And I like helping people. So if I can donate some of my time to help the community, that’s always awesome.”

Culinary arts instructor Jeremiah Dick (or as his students affectionately call him, “Chef”) says the Empty Bowls event used to be a larger event with soups donated by local restaurants, but that changed when he partnered with ceramics instructor Jeff Beck.

Now ceramics students handle the bowls while culinary students make all of the soups, as well as the fresh-baked bread and decadent dessert: cherry orange cream scones, topped with orange blossom sorbet and sour cherry gastrique.

“This is a great experience for the kids,” Dick says. “A lot of the students in my class want to pursue careers in this industry, so this way they perform a community service and get some hands-on experience.”

Wedlake is one of the students who wants to become a professional restaurateur. She dreams of owning her own café – at least partly because she loves talking to people and making them happy. As she served the soups she helped make to her hungry customers, it was hard to tell who was happier to be there.

“We’ve had to push ourselves hard to work to the best of our abilities,” Wedlake says. “I’m very proud of everything that everyone’s accomplished.”

State College food bank executive director Carol Pioli was one of the couple dozen community members who came out to Chatter’s Café on Thursday. She says the annual Empty Bowls fundraiser took a rare break last year, so she was “extremely happy” to see the event make its return. She expects the students will raise over $2,000 for the food bank.

“When you look around, you never know which face among us could be using the food bank,” Pioli says. “What you have here is good kids working to make a difference. That’s what we like to see.”

So that just leaves one question: how was the soup?

When asked, Pioli’s immediate reaction says it all. Instead of saying anything, she screws up her eyes and lets out a deep hum of enjoyment.

“Really excellent,” she says after a moment.


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Michael Martin Garrett is a reporter and editor for who covers local government, the courts, the arts and writes the Keeping the Faith column. He's a Penn State alumnus, a published poet and the bassist in a local indie rock band.
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