Camden Hills Regional High School’s annual Empty Bowl Dinner and Silent Auction

With ‘Empty Bowls,’ teens fill community with soup and food pantry donations

Tue, 12/16/2014 - 12:30pm

ROCKPORT — Every year for the past 20 years, teens from Camden Hills Regional High School have participated in a holiday tradition that began with one, simple ceramic bowl. In an art class project, once headed up by Simon van der Ven, and now organized by art instructor Russell Kahn, students each create a special, one-of-a-kind vessel that is both artistic and functional, and they donate it to the annual Empty Bowl Dinner and Silent Auction. The point of of all of this effort is to not only feed the community, but also to donate everything they make that night to four area food banks and charities.

When folks from the community walked into the CHRHS cafeteria in Rockport on Dec. 15, they paid $8 at the door and then had their pick of dozens of beautifully crafted bowls to choose from. With vivid glazes, some bowls had Chinese symbols, dots, circles and other designs. Others had a message: ”Fill me.”

One wouldn’t necessarily know that these bowls were done by high school art students — they were that sophisticated.

“There are some that are hand built, but a lot of them are thrown,” said Kahn. “The other thing that makes them distinct is that I introduced the students to a new item that is like a squeeze bottle with a metal nib where the kids can actually draw precise linework with the glaze,” he said. “It’s been a hit ever since I found that tool down at Portland Pottery.”

Standing in line behind a row of tables with giant, steaming pots, students served the community a variety of homemade soups donated by local stores and restaurants, including the Belfast Co-op, Point Lookout, Bell The Cat, Darby’s Restaurant and Pub, The Whales Tooth Pub, Cappy’s Chowder House, The Waterfront, Peter Ott’s and Primo. Several teachers as well as the school’s food class also made some soups, which were an immediate hit, such as the Italian sausage with tortellini, which ran out within 15 minutes of the doors opening.

Other delicious soups ran the gamut from beef vegetable stew to vegan carrot coconut ginger soup. “It’s always a variety. I always said, ‘Let’s not make too many of one thing,’ and from day one, since I started organizing this project, I haven’t had to worry about it,” said Kahn, who has been doing this for the past eight years.

A bread line was filled with various donated breads from Borealis, Atlantic Baking Company, French & Brawn Market Place and The Market Basket

A silent auction was also on display, with a variety of crafts and stocking stuffers. After deducting some of the expenses for creating the bowls, the rest of the proceeds from that night were to be donated to Belfast Soup Kitchen, Northport Food Pantry, Christian Food Bank and The Salvation Army. Last year, Kahn said they were able to give each food bank and charity around $250 apiece.

He said, “It was nice because they weren’t expecting it and it helps them at a time when they need it most.“

For a lot of the high school kids, it’s one of those volunteer-led projects that allows them to give back in a creative way. Said high school senior Justin Lopez, who was standing in line serving the soup that ran out the fastest, “This soup was made by a bunch of guys on the football team.”

Standing next to him, his friend, Elizabeth Cummons, a junior, piped in, “They were very, very into making this soup, it’s quite adorable.”

Both kids said they liked doing this because it gave back to the community.

“I just like seeing a bunch of people come together and support a good cause,” said Cummons.

To see a gallery of the bowls the art students made, click here.

Kay Stephens can be reached at