Each year, hundreds of people gather together over warm bowls of soup in support of Habitat for Humanity of Johnson County.

Organizers of the annual Soup Bowl rely on local chefs and restaurants to donate the stew, chowder, bisque and other soups they serve. They also count on area artists, who provide more than 800 handmade ceramic bowls given to each attendee.

But without the help of a group of Whiteland students who volunteer at the event, the Soup Bowl wouldn’t happen.

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“We couldn’t have done the Soup Bowl the past couple years without them. They’re the ones who serve the soup and clean the bowls and direct traffic, and they’re happy to do it,” said Doug Grant, special projects coordinator for Habitat for Humanity of Johnson County. “Without them, the thing wouldn’t happen.”

The Soup Bowl has become one of the major fundraisers for the county’s Habitat for Humanity chapter, routinely bringing in close to $20,000 to help fund the construction of houses for families in need of a home. Conducted Feb. 11 at Scott Hall at the Johnson County fairgrounds, the event offers people unlimited soup from local restaurants, as well as the chance to choose from a unique bowl to keep.

While the Soup Bowl has been a tradition for many since it started in 2006, it holds special meaning for Whiteland Community High School teacher Becky Canary and her students. Canary was part of the group that conceived the fundraiser, and from the start has made sure her students understand the importance of Habitat for Humanity in the community.

Their involvement has grown from clearing tables and serving food at the Soup Bowl to volunteering throughout the year in other capacities for Habitat for Humanity.

“This is their passion, too. They see a need, they see the importance of giving back to the community. That’s what I like about it: helping them see the importance of giving back,” Canary said.

Every Thursday, Whiteland students come to Habitat for Humanity’s ReStore, an outlet for salvaged building materials, gently used furniture, appliances and other home items that is open to the public. Proceeds support Habitat for Humanity builds.

They clean glass, dust off cabinets and furniture and move things that customers want to buy. If someone is planning on buying an item, the students gather and do a final cleanup of it so it’s in spotless condition, senior Brook King said.

The time they give is just another way to support Habitat for Humanity, an important organization in the community.

“It makes such a big impact,” senior Kennedy Syx said.

Habitat for Humanity has operated in Johnson County since 2006. The organization has built 18 homes for those who otherwise could not afford one, selling the houses to them at an affordable rate.

The Soup Bowl helps pay for building costs and supplies for future construction, Grant said.

The soup-centric fundraiser was born 12 years ago, with the idea coming from a group of area residents going through the Leadership Johnson County program. As part of the program training future leaders, participants separate into groups and come up with a service project to complete before graduating.

Canary was going through the program in 2006, and she banded together with others who wanted to address hunger. One of the members had heard about a food pantry in Bloomington that did a similar fundraiser, and they thought they could adapt it here.

“We were talking about hunger and we used their event as a model,” Canary said. “It was a suggestion and we expanded on it.”

At the same time that the group was putting the Soup Bowl together, Canary wanted to spread the word about it in her classroom. She teaches family and consumer science at Whiteland, so she recruited students from her PEER Helpers class to volunteer.

From that point on, it continued keeping the students involved.

“The class has developed into a service learning class, so they can use this as part of their service hours,” Canary said. “They’ve really gotten into it.”

Students in the PEER Helpers class can choose different volunteer opportunities throughout the community. They work to mentor elementary school students, donate their time at senior living communities such as Christina Place and collect coats for Operation Bundle-Up.

But working in the ReStore, and doing the Soup Bowl every year, is one of their favorite jobs.

“We have different projects and community service we do, but the Soup Bowl is one of our favorites,” said Jenny Gonzalez, a senior at Whiteland who volunteers for Habitat for Humanity. “All of us are graduating this year, and we’re talking about coming back next year to still work in the Soup Bowl. It’s something we really enjoy doing.”

Leading up to the event, Grant visits Canary’s class to talk about the Soup Bowl and the important role it plays in Habitat for Humanity’s mission. He’s always encouraged by the excitement they show to give their time doing the behind-the-scenes jobs that ensure the fundraiser goes smoothly.

This year, he has 24 students signed up to help.

“The community is huge in everything we do, because Habitat builds community and depends on the community. It all starts with youth. If you get them interested and can peak their philanthropic curiosity and get them excited about doing things on a local basis, that’s a real blessing,” Grant said.

If you go

Soup Bowl

When: 4 to 7 p.m. Sunday

Where: Scott Hall on the Johnson County Fairgrounds

What: A fundraiser of Habitat for Humanity of Johnson County, bringing some of the areas best restaurants together to serve homemade soup. People can eat as many different soups as they’d like. In addition, attendees get to pick out a handmade ceramic bowl to eat their soup out of.

Cost: Tickets are $25 and include a bowl, all-you-can-eat soup, dessert and a drink.

Information: habitatjohnsoncounty.org

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Ryan Trares is a reporter for the Daily Journal. He can be reached at rtrares@dailyjournal.net or 317-736-2727.