Roadrunner Food Bank's Souper Bowl 2006
As you step through the doorway of the warehouse, you can see chefs' coats float by on a wave of excitement and hear sounds of hot-plate burners flaming. Someone scolds someone else about chilling the crème fraîche, and the scent of rich chicken broth assaults your nostrils before you see the light, airy Matzo balls floating to the surfaces of a hundred tiny bowls at the Flying Star booth. It's just one small scene from the "Souper Bowl," the Roadrunner Food Bank's signature benefit to help raise funds for New Mexico's hungry.
Roadrunner Food Bank's motto is "Fighting Hunger ... Feeding Hope," and thanks to corporate-sponsored events like the Souper Bowl, their job is just that much easier. Now in its eighth year, ticket sales from last year's event raised around $40,000. Souper Bowl 2006 is scheduled for Saturday, Jan. 28, at the food bank's warehouse on Baylor Drive.
"The benefit started at one of the local malls and just grew and grew," says Roadrunner Food Bank's Marketing Director Jasmin Holmstrup.
Past Souper Bowls have been very successful, with 2005's event attendance at around 800 people, and Holmstrup predicts an even larger turnout this year.
Opening their doors in 1980, Roadrunner Food Bank operates statewide to solicit, collect and transport salvageable food from industry donors, and also purchases bulk foodstuffs to distribute through a network of over 700 outlets. In addition to soup kitchens, they also supply shelters, food pantries, group homes and low-income daycare centers.
Soup kitchens in the U.S. began operating around 1929 with the Great Depression. Twelve million Americans--about 25 percent of the labor force—were out of work, and the first soup kitchens were set up by churches and a few private charities. The mid-'30s saw a push in state and federally run kitchens, and soup was a reasonable choice to serve because it was easy to prepare, made a little go a long way and could be made to serve large numbers of people by adding more water.
Even Al Capone started his own soup kitchen in Chicago, serving three squares a day to the long lines of unemployed in the city, hoping to rub a bit of the tarnish off of his reputation.
The Roadrunner Food Bank carries on the tradition of giving by organizing and hosting their Souper Bowl each year to raise money for their programs, which include transportation, packaging, purchasing and operating expenses involved with feeding around 200,000 New Mexicans every year. Some of the programs funded by the event are the Senior Assistance Program, the Native American Assistance Program, the Fresh Produce Initiative and Food for Kids, through which children in low-income elementary schools receive a backpack full of food each week. The fundraising is centered on the finest soups prepared and served by the crème de la crème of the local restaurant scene.
Representatives from this year's event include Flying Star Café, Gruet Grille, Le Café Miche, Prairie Star, and Zinc Bistro and Wine Bar. Each restaurant will have their own booth space, complete with room for a modest display and, of course, the preparation and distribution of the soups. Desserts will also play a bigger role in this year's festivities, as they will be included in the judging categories. But all of the chefs, bakers and caterers in attendance will be competing for the championship titles of "Critics' Choice" and "People's Choice Awards."
And then there's the jewel in the crown of the entire event: the soups. Last year's offerings were as varied as they were delicious, and table after table of tureens filled the warehouse space with fragrant steam. There was tangy cream of tomato, warm green chile chicken, thick corn chowder, spicy tortilla, savory she-crab and Café Miche's house specialty, garlic-lavender soup. Some were served with bread or corn muffins, and Prairie Star's industrious team hand-grilled red chile shrimp to garnish each serving.
The entire back wall of the building was taken up with dessert booths, and the perfect accompaniment to the soups were chocolate-covered strawberries, key lime bars, cookies, cakes, mini cheesecakes and tiny lemon-meringue tarts.
The 2006 Bowl will have a live jazz band on hand for entertainment, as well as a silent auction featuring art, jewelry, gourmet foods, a Santa Fe Opera package and travel packages that include a two-night stay at the Taos Inn.
With so much work and year-round preparation involved, it may be easy to forget why the Souper Bowl, and events like it, are so important. Roadrunner Food Bank's system of resource consolidation has saved nonprofit agencies over $46 million each year, and from a social perspective, everyone benefits.
When this year's hungry crowd of Super Bowlers enters the warehouse, they are giving the less fortunate others outside the chance to receive nourishing meals all year long. And that's a souper idea.