MARCO ISLAND — As the Campbell's commercials used to remind us all the time, "soup is good food."
It became even more nourishing at the "Souper Bowl" in Mackle Park on Saturday. Hundreds of Islanders and visitors came out to be a part of the fundraiser benefiting the Leadership Marco Scholarship Fund. They paid $10, or more if they chose, for a ceramic bowl, which then got filled up with their choice of soups from a selection of participating public-spirited restaurants.
So the soup not only provided a warm lunch on a cool day (by southwest Florida standards), it will help nurture young minds, allowing Leadership Marco to build up its scholarship fund for local students. This soup will spread warmth far beyond one day.
Each restaurant or hotel kitchen, plus the AMI Kids, who also brought soup, committed to provide 10 gallons of one of their signature soups. The concept isn't new. A week ago, the Harry Chapin Food Bank held their seventh annual Empty Bowls event, bringing thousands to Cambier Park in Naples, with over three dozen restaurants providing soup.
But for a premier running of an event, the Marco Island Area Chamber of Commerce's Souper Bowl drew a tremendous outpouring of support.
"The whole island is here," said Debbie Roddy, standing with husband Martin, bowls in hand, and surveying the crowd that swarmed the "air-nasium" at Mackle Park. "It's really a fantastic turnout."
For the Souper Bowl, schoolchildren decorated 800 bowls with unique designs, which were then fired by the members of the Clay Guild at the Marco Island Center for the Arts. By the end of the event on Saturday, all 800 bowls had been sold, with at least 100 of them bringing in $15 rather than $10, said Jada Shigley, director of reservations at the Marco Marriott, and a member of the chamber's education committee. Donna Diemczyk of the chamber, another education committee member, estimated attendance at approximately 1,000.
"The only difficult part today is picking your bowl," said Susie Walsh. To no one's surprise, she was wearing a crazy hat for the event, although in this case, it was for a good cause. Her straw topper, decorated with 50 $1 bills, was one of the prizes in the raffle for which Walsh was selling tickets.
Phyllis Wallen, visiting from Toronto, looked at a number of bowls before making her selection. She ended up with one painted by a fifth grader named Josemaria, as could be seen by turning the bowl over to check its bottom. "It's a happy bowl," Wallen said to explain why she went with that particular design.
Chef Denis Meurgue from Bistro Soleil served up his golden mushroom soup, with wild rice, onion crumbles and a dollop of sour cream on top. Queried about the recipe, he came clean.
"It's Campbell's," he said, before being cautioned that if he kept saying it, someone might believe it. His soup was the first to be declared officially out of "stock," winner of the unofficial "vote with your spoon" contest.
Chef Laura Owen of CJ's on the Bay brought a stuffed pepper soup, almost more of a stew, loaded with ground beef.
"I would have done our seafood chowder, but the Marriott was doing a conch chowder, and we wanted to offer something different," she said. "We serve this as a 'soup of the day' a lot."
Savannah Willis from The Catch restaurant at Port of the Islands dished up their French onion soup. "Everybody keeps talking to us in French," she said. "We don't speak French."
Among the crowd were a number of historical figures from Marco Island's past. Portrayed by local residents, Barron Collier, Deaconess Harriet Bedell, Tommie Barfield, Betty Collier, and Mary and Louis Olds answered questions about the pioneering days of the island.