Joyce Thomas was surprised by how graciously she was handed her soup, considering who was armed with a ladle.

The Soup Nazi, the famed "Seinfeld" character played by actor Larry Thomas, is known for his less-than-pleasant disposition. But on Tuesday, the Soup Nazi served bowls of heartland harvest soup at the Lincoln Food Bank’s Empty Bowls Luncheon with a smile.

“Instead of ‘no soup for you,’ it was ‘soup for you!” Thomas said.

More than 1,000 people picked up unique, handmade bowls and proceeded into the Embassy Suites ballroom to sample soups from 15 local businesses -- ranging from Fireworks' prime rib potato vegetable soup to the Blue Orchid’s tom kha tofu.

In addition to their practical use, the bowls serve as a reminder of the 50,000 food insecure children and adults in Lincoln and Southeast Nebraska, organizers said.

“They’re a symbol of the bowls we’ve filled and the bowls we still need to fill,” said Scott Young, executive director of the Lincoln Food Bank.

Kathleen Grossman, the owner of Down Under Pottery studio in Lincoln, has been throwing bowls for the event since it began 10 years ago.

The fundraiser started small, Grossman said -- the food bank needed about 250 bowls back then -- but has grown to require more than 1,000.

“For me, it’s a tremendous thing to be able to do -- the thing I love the most -- and have such an impact on my community,” she said. “It’s wonderful.”

The "Seinfeld" star was invited by organizers to take pictures with guests, serve soup and help auction a signed handkerchief, chef’s uniform and a set of bowls with the actor’s face carved inside.

The event raises nearly $80,000, which amounts to $500,000 worth of food, Young said, considering the Lincoln Food Bank distributes $6 of food for every $1 raised.

In the 10 years since the fundraiser began, Young estimates they've raised $500,000, which translates to about $3 million worth of food.

"The need is really great right now, and at the same time resources are declining food-wise," Young said. "We are working hard to maintain the great growth in donations we've had over the past five years."

Reach Michael Bamesberger at 402-472-2655 or at mbamesberger@journalstar.com.