EAST MANATEE -- Nearly 35 students scurried about in preparation for the big feast Wednesday.
Three steel pots holding soup sat neatly in a row. Cookies and cakes lined a banquet table. Mounds of bread atop another.
The students, all members of Braden River Middle School's National Junior Honor Society, served lunch to school staff and the community to raise awareness for world hunger, a school tradition in its 15th year.
Guest donations benefited Our Daily Bread, a Bradenton organization dedicated to feeding the poor.
"Last year we raised $1,000, so this year we hope to raise a little more. So far, we've reached about $430," said Lisa Brewer-Norton, NJHS adviser.
Each student made and decorated small clay bowls for guests to take home. The empty bowls, placed on tables, served as a reminder of hunger in the community.
"Remember: You guys are the hosts. Don't gawk over the food, don't try to sneak food. You'll eat when it's over," Brewer-Norton instructed lovingly.
Christy Doan, 13, and two friends were in charge of doling out soda. NJHS spent two days setting up and decorating the school's multi-purpose room with balloons and banners for the event, she said.
"I think this is really special because you know you're doing something nice for someone else," Doan said.
Lunch began at 11 a.m., and teachers came trickling in to enjoy food partially donated by Publix and Crispers.
Joe Brannon, a sixth-grade science teacher, sat down to eat with three other teachers.
"There's always a sense of pride to watch our kids do something special for the community," he said.
Six students strummed on the cello, viola and violin. Composer Soon Hee Newbold's "Rock Riffs" played elegantly in the background as guests ate.
Then 14-year-old Abbey Shilling, NJHS vice president, gave a short speech.
"I was so excited to find out that NJHS was going to become part of the Empty Bowls Project because this is exactly the leverage we need to make a difference in the community," she said. "It's about taking baby steps to help the hungry. We can't pick them up, put them back on their feet and say 'Go live your life,' but we can at least give them a nudge by supporting a cause that's trying to help them."
Sabrina Rocco, East Manatee reporter, can be reached at (941) 745-7024. Follow @sabrinarocco on Twitter.