A few days before the New England Patriots and Atlanta Falcons clashed in the NFL’s Super Bowl, Nease High School hosted community members for a different type of “SOUPer Bowl” event to help address childhood hunger in St. Johns County.
For the second consecutive year, Nease transformed its cafeteria into a soup lover’s paradise, with 22 local restaurants attending the event Feb. 2 to provide samples of their most popular chowders, stews and bisques. Raising more than $32,000, the event benefited First Coast Blessings in a Backpack, a nonprofit organization that provides consistent weekend nutrition for children on the federal free and reduced meal program. Funds from the event will be used by First Coast Blessings in a Backpack to provide food to underprivileged kids at Webster Elementary School in St. Augustine.
“The school it’s going directly toward, Webster, is where I went,” said Rohan Bhargava, a Nease junior and organizer of the event. “For five years, I was with those kids, and I saw what they had to put up with. For me to actually do something to help them means a lot.”
Bhargava explained that children relying on the federal free and reduced meal program don’t always have meals waiting for them when they go home after school. As a result, Blessings in a Backpack packs food items for these kids and sends it home with them on the weekends. According to Nease parent and SOUPer Bowl organizer Patti Ann Farrar, there are approximately 600 kids in St. Johns County that depend on this food.
The SOUPer Bowl was founded last year, Farrar said, after she and a group of parents decided to establish a fundraising event to help Blessings in a Backpack raise awareness and funds for its cause. Since then, Farrar said Nease has rallied around the SOUPer Bowl, noting that the more than 100 event organizers and volunteers include members of the school’s hospitality and communications academies, International Baccalaureate (IB) students fulfilling their service hours and parents. Last year’s event raised $23,000.
Farrar said she’s been overwhelmed by the groundswell of support from the community, especially from the restaurants that have volunteered their time and food, such as Blue Bamboo, Palm Valley Outdoors and The Sawgrass Marriott, to name a few.
Nocatee resident JoAnn Vulcano also said she appreciates the support from the restaurants.
“It’s a wonderful cause,” she said. “It’s a grand event. They do a great job.”
Bhargava, who has been primarily planning the SOUPer Bowl along with six or seven students since November, encourages others to help address hunger in the community.
“The big problem is knowing about it and realizing almost anything you do helps,” he said. “Anything you do is one step towards solving the problem.”